BOCA RATON – Lane Kiffin had never met arguably the most prominent member of his first FAU recruiting class until that player had already enrolled at Florida Atlantic.
Wednesday’s Signing Day press conference afforded Kiffin his first chance to discuss DeAndre Johnson – the player who many expected to pilot the Kiffin/Kendal Briles offense come the fall.
Kiffin said he’s found Johnson to be a “very humble kid.”
Johnson began his career at Florida St. but was kicked off the team when a video surfaced of him punching a girl in the face at a local bar.
He would plead guilty to misdemeanor battery and transferred to East Mississippi Community College.
Johnson ultimately signed with FAU in December, a couple days after Kiffin’s hiring, but it was the former FAU assistant coaches who recruited the quarterback considered a blue-chip prospect out of high school. Athletic director Pat Chun and FAU president Dr. John Kelly approved adding Johnson to the Owls’ football team.
“I’ve had a chance to be around him a little bit and also see him around our recruits,” Kiffin said. “Every weekended that we’ve been here he’s opened his dorm room to show the recruits where he stays. He’s hosted kids every weekend.”
Kiffin isn’t drawing impressions based solely on his interactions with Johnson over the past month. While visiting East Mississippi during the recruitment of fellow FAU signee Tim Bonner, Kiffin made a point of discussing Johnson with that coaching staff.
“The way they talked about him, he’s a really special kid that had a really bad decision that he made and has really learned from that and is moving forward,” Kiffin said. “I’m excited that he was given this second opportunity.”
De’Andre to DeAndre: It’s not too early for FAU fans to begin dreaming about the De-Squared Saturday connection. Kiffin said he began recruiting wide receiver DeAndre McNeal while the Texas native was still in high school. McNeal attended camps at Alabama while Kiffin was the offensive coordinator there, but ultimately chose to play for Texas.
McNeal left the Longhorns after one season, transferring to Fullerton College for one season. He chose to sign with FAU and Kiffin over UCLA on Wednesday.
“He’d always been a guy that I kind of always had a plan for how we would play him,” Kiffin said. “I always wanted him every time I saw him and I think that helped us a lot in the situation.”
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 236 pounds, McNeal must have been impressed by that plan.
He told OwlAccess.com he selected the Owls over the Bruins because FAU was “better offensively for me.”
On The Line: If the Owls had to identify the one player they need to make an immediate impact it would likely be offensive lineman Joey Palmer.
Kiffin believes JuCo transfer could slide into the left tackle spot next season.
“We know that’s a position of need – offensive line – so we’re excited to have him,” Kiffin said.
Nod To Partridge: Kiffin took a moment to praise the job former FAU coach Charlie Partridge did getting the program in order off the field.
“Sometimes you come into a program and you’ve got to go fix that academic structure, you’ve got to fix the discipline that’s going on,” Kiffin said. “We’re fortunate in this case not to. They did a great job.”