Just having the first name My-King already made three star My-King Johnson an intriguing football recruit; the fact that he’s going to be major conference college football’s first openly gay recruit made history.
Johnson, who will play for Arizona next season, was the subject of a recent Tucson.com profile, which revealed to Wildcats fans what his friends and family have known since he was 12—the 6-foot-4, 225-pound prospect is gay. He’s also dope as hell on and off the football field.
The senior wrapped his high school career as the top-rated defensive end in the entire state of Arizona, registering 21.5 sacks for Tempe High School. The 17-year old initially committed to UCLA, but opted to sign with Arizona when it became apparent the Wildcats, not the Bruins, would offer him the opportunity to play as a freshman.
The newest Wildcat has been living with his grandmother in Tempe for the past two years after his mother moved to Seattle to take a nursing job. One of the stipulations of allowing him to stay behind to finish out at Tempe High was that Johnson would have to keep his grades up—he’ll graduate with a 3.8 GPA.
Arizona defensive line coach Vince Amey was responsible for recruiting Johnson. When the coveted recruit told the former NFL player he was gay, the coach told him “We want you to be a Wildcat,” per Johnson, sealing the deal for him.
“When I found out, I really couldn’t sleep,” Amey said. “And it wasn’t like I was uncomfortable with it. I was just like, all right, it’s different, it’s new. … I said, ‘Look, you are who you are, I am who I am, and I’m going to coach you the same way. I’m going to treat you the same way. I’m going to get on you the same way as everybody else. There’s no difference. You do what you do.’ I said, ‘When the players find out, especially my room, I’m going to tell (those) dudes: ‘Look, you gotta have his back.’”
“I can’t wait to be like, ‘Yeah, I got to coach the first openly gay kid to be an All-Pac-12 defensive end,’ ” he said.
Given how dreadful their defense was this past season, the Wildcats will hope Johnson can replicate his high school success from Week 1. Arizona finished 3-9 last season, going 1-8 in Pac-12 play thanks in large part to fielding the ninth-worst scoring defense in the nation. The Wildcats combined for just 21.0 sacks; in his final two years of high school, Johnson combined for 43.5 sacks on his own.
On the field, Johnson is a strong player, but doesn’t rely purely upon his athleticism, keeping his arms extended when he drives through offensive linemen—he’s already nailed down a smooth-as-hell swim move. While he may not be able to lean on it as much in the offensively loaded Pac-12, he used his speed to quickly close on quarterbacks in high school. At the next level, he’ll be slightly undersized as an edge rusher, but he won’t be out of place on a defense with a 248-pound nose tackle.
As far as the history-making goes, Johnson’s coaches and friends are quick to heap praise on the teen, lauding his openness and honesty in the light of carrying the label of a gay black male football player. Johnson, meanwhile, has been comfortable in his skin from a young age, and having been out since middle school, seems more than ready to help break the Power-Five sexuality barrier.
“I do feel like when I say that, it can put a target on my back,” Johnson said about being open about his sexuality.