Winter Garden native Garrett Johnson, a former West Orange Warrior and University of Kentucky Wildcat, has been training locally ahead of this week’s NFL draft.
Garrett Johnson is having a slight case of déjà vu.
Back home the past few weeks following his Pro Day at the University of Kentucky March 23, the Winter Garden native is training daily ahead of the NFL draft. In doing so, Johnson is experiencing flashbacks to when he was a West Orange Warrior, putting in work to get noticed by college programs.
Sure, the stakes are higher now. Now Johnson is hoping either to hear his name called during the draft April 26 to 28 or to ink a deal as an undrafted free agent — but the grind hasn’t changed.
“It feels like high school all over again, trying to get those (scholarship) offers — but kind of on a different level, now,” Johnson said, sitting in the bleachers at Raymond Screws Field. “I just been out here every day continuing to grind.”
To this point, Johnson has made a career out of being an underdog. Ask the coaching staff at West Orange, and they’ll tell you he was criminally under-recruited as a varsity player, noting that some programs hardly gave him a look.
“(West Orange wide receivers) coach (Joe) Light can tell you, every day I’d see (teammates) getting offers — I just couldn’t wait to get my first offer,” Johnson said. “I always thought I had the short end of the stick, but I just feel like that was God’s plan. That’s my path, and I just take it for what it is. It makes me go a little harder with a chip on my shoulder.”
That chip on his shoulder seems to have paid dividends. Johnson found a landing spot at Kentucky, where in four seasons for the Wildcats, he was a reliable receiver and dynamic playmaker.
He had 155 catches for Kentucky during his career, good for 2,089 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns — all while playing a rugged conference schedule in the Southeastern Conference.
Pro scouts interested in him based on his statistical collegiate production also are likely to have been impressed with his Pro Day performance. His 40.5-inch vertical jump and his 40-yard dash times of 4.39 and 4.42 would have had him among the top performers at the NFL draft combine — had he been invited.
“Faith, that’s No. 1. Without that, there’s just so much going on. If you don’t have a focus on God, you’ll be lost. You’ve got to rely on faith.”
He was not, and that is why the former West Orange Wildcat keeps his head down and continues to work. Even with his dream within reach, he still is playing the role of the underdog.
“I always had NFL dreams and aspirations … probably my sophomore year and junior year, that’s when agents starting reaching out,” Johnson said. “Even then, I kind of still didn’t believe it (could happen).”
It could, though, whether he hears his name called during the three-day draft or signs a contract as an undrafted free agent with any of several teams who have expressed interest in his abilities to his agent. The uncertainty can be challenging, but Johnson said he is leaning on family, friends and faith as he navigates this stretch.
“Faith, that’s No. 1,” Johnson said. “Without that, there’s just so much going on. If you don’t have a focus on God, you’ll be lost. You’ve got to rely on faith.”
In the meantime, he is excited to be back in West Orange, where so much of the foundation of his football career was laid — and where familiar faces such as Warriors coach Bob Head and others are happy to unlock the weight room so he can lift.
“There’s nothing better than that … coming back home and getting back to the basics, that’s the bread and butter,” Johnson said. “It keeps me humble.”