Last month, seventh grade students at
Trinity Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.)
participated in the mile run as part of a standard physical fitness test.
After most of the class had completed the mile, one student in particular was laboring to finish.
Cooling down from his own run, 6-foot-1, 172-pound
sprinted up, threw his arm around his classmate and jogged the rest of the way with him.
It marked a rare opportunity where Johnson got to participate in an athletic event with kids his own size.
The 13-year-old wunderkind spent half the season playing JV for the small school power and was called up to varsity for the second half of the year when he was still just 12 years old.
"He's just one of those kids you just know as a seventh grader is going to be really good," said Trinity Christian head coach Verlon Dorminey.
Playing defensive back, Johnson made 11 tackles and intercepted as a pass playing against some players who in some cases were five or six years older.
Following in his brother's footsteps
If it's possible for a seventh grader to be truly prepared for varsity high school football and the college recruiting process, it might be Johnson, who's had a little help along the way from his older brother.
"I think he's learned a lot from De'Andre," said Earl Johnson, the boys' father.
De'Andre is De'Andre Johnson
, a MaxPreps All-American
in each of his first two years of high school who has started at quarterback for First Coast (Jacksonville, Fla.)
since the first game of his freshman season.
Growing up with De'Andre has helped Tyreke develop physically, according to Earl, but it's also helped him mature as a person. He said he's had little trouble controlling Tyreke's ego.
"Tyreke is just a humble spirit," Earl said. "He's just a loving, caring kid. That's his spirit."
An A/B student, Tyreke has greatly impressed Dorminey on and off the field since he enrolled at the school as a sixth grader. Dorminey's feelings toward Tyreke are almost incomprehensible for a player Tyreke's age.
"He's just a good kid. He's a kid that, honestly, you could see this kid in the Heisman Trophy race. He's that type of kid. He's somebody's poster child for a program. He's somebody you want out front, portraying what your program really is."
In addition to his father, Dorminey believes Tyreke's mother, Pamela Jones, has played a big role in his development.
"His mom's a great mom. She keeps that boy mature and grounded."Offers on the way?
From a perspective focused purely on football, it's easy to see why Tyreke has already caught the attention of at least a half-dozen schools.
In addition to having obvious bloodlines and tremendous size for his age, he's remarkably athletic and boasts a tremendous football IQ. He hasn't even started lighting weights, choosing to stick with pushups, pullups and situps. Still, he's extremely advanced physically.
"He's built and put together like a Greek god as a seventh grader," Dorminey said.
In addition to his work as a cornerback last fall, he also played a little special teams, returning a punt for a touchdown against Bishop Snyder.
Dorminey says he'll almost certainly start the entire season as an eighth grader in the fall, and expects him to see some time on offense, where he'll likely play receiver. He'll also line up behind center, where his football acumen will be put to good use.
"Not only is he a smart kid, but he has a lot of football knowledge for as young as he is. He's gonna be the kid that will be the leader," Dorminey said.
Tyreke is not the first blue-chip player to walk the halls of Trinity Christian, so Dorminey has a solid basis for comparison when it comes to gauging Tyreke.
In February, the team had safety Nick Washington
sign with Florida. Andrew Buie, who graduated from the school in 2011, rushed for 850 yards and seven touchdowns for West Virginia last season. Rising junior Kevin Toliver II
, one of the top Class of 2015 recruits in the state, is already committed to LSU.
Perhaps the greatest quarterback in state history, Tim Tebow, began his career there.
Still, Tyreke is on a pace that's accelerated even compared to the other blue chip recruits the school has produced.
Florida State, which landed a commitment from De'Andre as a sophomore, is extremely interested in Tyreke, according to Earl.
Louisville, Miami, LSU, Ohio State and Clemson have also expressed interest in the budding star, who sometimes still mingles with fifth- and sixth-graders in the playground.
With that level of attention, Tyreke is approaching uncharted territory in recruiting.
Quarterback David Sills
received an offer from and committed to USC
as a seventh grader, but he gained his reputation under the tutelage of position guru Steve Clarkson. Tate Martell, who committed to Washington last summer
, heading into his eighth grade season, also trained with Clarkson. At least eight eighth graders
had offers before entering high school as freshmen this fall.
No position player has been offered as a seventh-grader, but Dorminey thinks Tyreke will be the first.
"If he doesn't come out of the spring with an offer, I'll be surprised."
Too much, too soon?
Trinity Christian - Tyreke Johnson - Interception
The closest comparison for Tyreke is likely University Lab (Baton Rouge, La.)
standout Dylan Moses
, who received an offer from LSU the summer before his eighth grade season. Moses is stunningly athletic, and at 205 pounds, even more physically imposing for his age.
Not yet an eighth grade graduate, Moses recently
picked up an offer from defending national champion Alabama
and tenacious recruiter Nick Saban.
This prompted a slew
of the hyper-acceleration of the recruiting process, thrusting Moses into the spotlight as the poster boy for the new age of recruiting.
Edward Moses, Dylan's father, said neither he nor Dylan expected offers so soon.
"I thought you'd get offers as an 11th grader, 10th grade if you're really good and if you're really exceptional, as a freshman," he said.
While the experience has been eye-opening, it hasn't been negative. Edward insists Dylan remains focused in the classroom, has a normal social life and is working toward the goal Edward has set for him: to obtain not only an undergraduate degree, but a law degree.
Most of the buzz in the media and amongst fans has been that recruiting in general has gotten out of control, that recruiting grammar school athletes is merely an example of how highly competitive recruiting has become for the nation's elite schools and how much the NCAA has struggled to attempt to regulate it.
Edward Moses sees a positive to it: it gets younger kids focused on playing college football and ultimately obtaining a degree.
"I've read the negatives, I've read the positives," he said. "For me, I love it. If you can get these kids focused on education and reaching to go to college, then I'm all for it.
"Dylan is 14 and is young. But when you look at youngsters committing crimes, it's not a young age to start a criminal life."High school decision
Although colleges will come calling sooner rather than later, Tyreke's biggest decision right now may be where he'll be suiting up for high school.
By all accounts, Tyreke is happy at the Trinity Christian. But the appeal of playing alongside De'Andre at First Coast, if only for one season, certainly exists.
"They've always dreamed, since they were young, of playing high school football together," Earl said. "I don't know how we're going to manage this."
He'll probably be thinking the same thing a few months from now, when Tyreke's recruitment officially kicks off with a scholarship offer, some 50-plus months before he'll be able to sign a National Letter of Intent.