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Johnson Speaks Softly, Unloads Many Big Sticks : Contradiction: Ventura College's All-American cornerback has Division I potential but he would rather talk of academics, or not at all.

October 26, 1989|JEFF RILEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's Kyron Johnson's hour at Ventura College. He pulls up a chair, folds his hands on the table, and sighs.

Yo, Mr. All-American defensive back, tell us how you're on your way to the big time. Next year you'll be playing about 80 miles east of here in the Rose Bowl, right?

You say football is fun, but only there to provide you with an education?

C'mon, show us some of your gold jewelry, your fancy sports car. Surely you have a nickname, something like Neon, perhaps?

You just try to play your best? You don't think you're really that talented?

OK, OK, Kyron. At least tell us about that interception last year during Ventura's 12-10 upset of unbeaten and fifth-ranked Moorpark. Defensive coordinator Steve Tobias said it was a "gigantic play," a pick that ended a Moorpark drive deep in Ventura territory and gave the Pirates the ball for the go-ahead score.

Never really had a good game? Made a couple of good plays against Moorpark, but got burned a couple of times, too?

Meet Kyron Johnson, a sophomore cornerback who is overwhelmingly modest in a day of flashy players with dollar-sign earrings.

Secondaries are full of fast-talking, finger-pointing players. But Johnson is reserved, polite, and even helps the receiver to his feet after knocking him on his back.

"He's kind of mysterious," said Marc Sherman, who coaches Ventura's defensive backs.

Johnson's ability, however, is obvious. And Ventura's coaching staff is more than pleased to see No. 23 roaming the Pirates' secondary.

"He has everything it takes," said Sherman, a former Ventura player who played for Brigham Young's national-championship team in 1984 and started for the Cougars in '85. "He has good size, good speed, and he works hard."

But three additional qualities impress Tobias, the defensive coordinator. Tobias demands his players "get to the ball, strike people, and run the (game plan)," and says Johnson accomplishes all three. Not only has it led to a defense that allows only 8.7 points a game on a team that is 6-0, but it has produced a Division I prospect in Johnson.

"Kyron is, by far, the most reliable guy we have when it comes to doing those three things," Tobias said. "There is no question about it."

The only question was whether Johnson would wear a Pirate uniform after he graduated from Ventura High in 1988. Johnson was All-Southern Section, All-Ventura County, and All-Channel League. But, at 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, he was all-too-small for major-college football.

"I guess I just didn't convince anybody," Johnson said. "I didn't think I deserved a scholarship, but when all the hoopla sunk in, I said 'Wow, with all this, shouldn't I get something?' "

Not according to the recruiters. Therefore Johnson, admittedly his own worst critic, looked in the mirror for answers.

"I thought maybe I wasn't supposed to be playing this game," he said. "I felt that I couldn't compete."

Johnson was prepared to end his football career and study business at Cal State Sacramento. But Sherman used some of his hard-sell tactics.

"He convinced me that I could make a difference and have some fun," Johnson said.

That show of confidence in Johnson, something Ventura College coaches say the player still lacks in himself, is what lured him.

"He was a little down on himself and wasn't sure where he belonged," Sherman said. "I told him that he could do it. If he could believe it, he could do it."

Johnson made an immediate impact as a starter last season and earned All-Western State Conference and All-State honors. He was a preseason All-American choice this season, another honor that baffles him.

"I didn't really think I played that well last season," Johnson said. "This year I'm not exactly stinking the place up, but I'm not where I want to be."

Regardless of Johnson's perception, he is attracting attention. Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Colorado are following Johnson. Most of the attention derives from game films that show a bigger (175 pounds), hard-hitting player who has worked overtime in the weight room.

"I think I have proven to the recruiters that I am for real," Johnson said.

But that's about as much as he will say about himself. Johnson isn't dreaming of playing in front of 100,000 fans in the Rose Bowl. He is content with a textbook and an opportunity for an education in international business or property development.

"Football is just providing me with an education," said Johnson, who maintains a 3.24 grade-point average.

That type of modesty might hurt Johnson in the recruitment battle.

"He's a little bit too conservative for a cornerback," Sherman said. "Kyron will just hit you clean and walk away."

But both Sherman and Tobias still feel Johnson will stride into a Division I scholarship.

"You sit down with the young man and you're going to like him," Tobias said. "You're going to know you're not bringing in a problem. You know this kid has a fair chance to play for you and he's going to be solid academically."

And what do you think, Kyron?

"I don't know, I guess I'm coming along," he said.

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