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DMV Spotlight | Zion Johnson goes from high school golfer to hole-in-one NFL draft prospect

Boston College offensive lineman Zion Johnson (77) plays against North Carolina State during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Boston, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Boston College offensive lineman Zion Johnson (77) plays against North Carolina State during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Boston, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the opinion of the team.

The DMV is a hotbed for NFL talent, and in recent years, the Washington Football Team has taken advantage.

From drafting Jonathan Allen (Stone Bridge) and Chase Young (DeMatha) in the first round to adding Logan Thomas (Brookville) and Kendall Fuller (Good Counsel) in free agency, Washington has turned to its own backyard to construct a roster that helped the franchise win its first NFC East title since 2015.

In anticipation for the 2022 NFL Draft, which kicks off Thursday, April 28, is examining some of the best local prospects in this year's draft class by talking to their high school coaches. Here are the prospects we've looked at so far:

Now, we're wrapping things up with first-round prospect Zion Johnson.

Zion Johnson, G, Boston College

Caesar Nettles waited patiently on one of the school buses at Riverdale Baptist School. He had received the green light from the kid's family to speak to him about joining the football team, and now all he needed to know was whether the kid was interested.

The kid he was waiting for was Zion Johnson, who was a sophomore on Riverdale Baptist's golf team. He had never played football before, but the intangibles were hard to miss. He had "huge feet, huge hands," and Nettles believed there was some growth potential. 

Nettles told Johnson two things: he wanted to see what he could do on the field, and he wanted to see how hard he could work. Johnson agreed to join the team, and it's safe to say that decision worked out for him.

Johnson, who played two seasons at Davidson before transferring to Boston College in 2019, has become one of the top offensive line prospects with many believing he's the top guard available. It took some time to transform him from golfer to football player, but the work has Nettles confident in his former player's future.

"I don't know Zion's not a top five pick," Nettles said.

The transition to different sports was not an easy one. For starters, the workouts for golf and those for football are completely different, so Nettles had to work with Johnson on training his body for the sport. Johnson couldn't even bench press 135 pounds, but it was clear to Nettles that he did have the strength in him. He just hadn't done the movements before.

Luckily, one thing that Nettles didn't need to teach Johnson was the physical aspect of the game. The area where Riverdale Baptist is located, Nettles said, is "not a soft area, being aggressive is something that you kind of have to do in order to, you know, be successful."

Johnson picked up the physicality needed to thrive in the sport quickly, and there were times when he needed to teach Johnson how to fine tune that part of his game.

"When you go through the whistle that requires you to go a little bit harder than most," Nettles said. "I don't think I've ever coached a kid that goes through the whistle better than Zion."

It got to the point where Johnson could turn his physicality on and off. He could go from laughing and giggling to having a more serious demeanor with ease.

"He's like a silent assassin," Nettles said. "He's a cyborg. I've never met anybody like him."

It's one thing to have the physical traits to play on the offensive line; it's another entirely to master the techniques. For Johnson, it took about five months to get that down. By the time the team met in August for padded practices, he was exceptional at the fine points of the position like hand placement, drive blocking and feet placement.

By October of that year, there were signs that Johnson was starting to stand out physically. He put on about 20 pounds and was "as strong as an ox." Then, after his junior year, he added another 20 pounds. Most college scouts were more interested in teammate and future first-round pick Christian Darrisaw, but that didn't change the fact that Johnson was talented in his own right.

"We could definitely tell there [was] a lot of substance to this kid," Nettles said.

Nettles credits Johnson's growth to his "uncontrollable tenacity." He described Johnson as a perfectionist who never stops working to outdo his opponent. That work ethic showed up at Davidson, where he was a first team all-conference player with 19 starts. It showed up again at Boston College, where he graded out as the program's top offensive lineman in 2021 and was a two-time All-ACC selection.

"There's no more fight in a human being than [what] Zion has," Nettles said.

Nettles has seen what analysts are saying about his former player. He's supposed to be Day 1 pick, and there are few, if any mock drafts that say otherwise. He also knows there are plenty of standout offensive linemen in this class who will likely be immediate starters.

And he knows that top five picks aren't normally the area where teams invest in a guard. That doesn't change his belief that Johnson is one of the surest, safest picks in his class.

"If you need an interior offensive lineman, I don't see anybody close to him," Nettles said. "I don't know anybody that you can bring on your team that immediately makes your team more unified."

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