Trent Johnson recruited Tulane before its baseball coaches recruited him.
If his last preseason performance goes as planned, his desire to pitch for the Green Wave will pay off in an opening weekend starting assignment as coach Travis Jewett tries to put last year's nightmarish mound work in the rearview mirror.
Johnson, an imposing, 6-foot-5, 240-pound redshirt sophomore, finally feels comfortable after spending an inactive season at Arizona and a productive one at John A Logan, a community college in his home state of Illinois.
"About halfway through the fall (of 2016) I emailed (Tulane pitching) coach (Ty) Dickinson and said I'm interested in your school," Johnson said. "We played them my freshman year at Arizona, and they were a good program. I came down on a visit, loved it and really liked the academic opportunity. Then it just took off from there."
The landing point could be next Sunday against Wright State. Johnson is expected to pitch five innings this Sunday in a scrimmage, and Jewett figures to keep him in that role if he fares well.
Every spot is open in Tulane's rotation after the team ERA ballooned to 5.72 in Jewett's first season, and Johnson could join Rummel graduate and fellow underused former Arizona pitcher Kaleb Roper (one appearance, one inning in 2016), the likely opening-night starter, in the weekend rotation.
"It's just his command, his ability to stand up there and throw three pitches for strikes," Jewett said of Johnson. "For his size, he's a really good athlete. He can get off the mound and field his position, he's got a quick move to first and he can hold runners. That's a good combo."
Johnson's road to New Orleans was circuitous. Born in Brisbane, Australia, he grew up in the tiny town of Metamora, Illinois (population 2,500) after his parents moved back to the United States. He chose Arizona out of high school in large part because his grandparents were from Tucson and he had spent time there almost every year.
After never playing as a freshman for a team that reached the College World Series championship final, he transferred to John A Logan. Still unsure about his health after Tommy John surgery in his junior year of high school, he knew he needed to pitch regularly to find his form.
His decision worked beautifully when he threw 69.2 innings, going 11-2 with a 2.07 ERA while striking out 80, earning first-team all-conference honors. He was even sharper in the second half of the season, allowing only four earned runs in his last 32 innings (1.12 ERA).
Football was his first love — his dad played for Illinois in the 1980s — and he channels the aggressive mentality of that sport on the mound.
"I like to attack hitters as much as I possibly can," he said. "I like to use my fastball no matter whether it's hard that day or not and work off it. I'm up tempo. I'm excited out there and try to have as much fun as I can."
Jewett said Johnson's top velocity was 90 to 92 mph. He also has an above average slider and a decent changeup, using all of them as out pitches on different days.
"It's been a mental maturity thing for me," he said. "When I first got into my freshman year of baseball, the game felt sped up. Here I feel like it's the right speed. I did have some doubts as far as the health of the elbow, but I never wanted to quit. I was able to pull through and get back to high-level baseball."
Just to make sure the elbow concern remained in the past, Jewett gave him a little push.
"I've challenged him," he said. "I said it's not the end of the world, but this is your shot at this thing. You have to jump in with two feet and trust that your arm is in a good structural position and do everything you need to do to let this thing fly."