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by Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — It seemed odd at the time, this rangy, gangly kid surrounding by all of these smaller runners coming around the turn of the track. But there he was, Lane Johnson, all feet, and churning arms, and pumping fists, head-and-shoulders above everyone else running the 400-meter dash. Then it was off to the field events to throw the shot put.
There really wasn’t anything the Eagles’ first-round draft pick out of Oklahoma, by way of tiny Groveton High School, in Groveton, Texas, couldn’t do. Including perfect, dead-on voice impersonations.
Johnson could throw the shot 50 feet and run the quarter in 49 seconds. Then go into Frank Caliendo and imitate his teammates and coaches.
Everything with Johnson seems to have come late. He was 17 when he graduated Groveton, a Class A school at the time located in a rural community. He was 6-foot-6 then, but he weighed 215 pounds with aspirations of playing quarterback at a major Division I level.
“Lane graduated at 17 years old and he really didn’t start growing until he got out of high school,” said Kevin Parker, Groveton’s defensive coordinator who was also Johnson’s high school basketball coach. “It’s crazy what’s happened. He probably put on 40 pounds between the time he graduated and the fall of the next year. He began growing pretty rapidly from that point on.”
Johnson’s dream was to play quarterback, but his high school coaches projected him as a tight end, if he was going to play major college football. No one was looking at Johnson as a quarterback.
“Of course, Lane outgrew that position, too, once he got to Oklahoma, but he could probably still play tight end, he’s phenomenal,” Parker said. “I was his basketball coach at Groveton. Lane was a good basketball player, too. We’re not very good in basketball, but we were a lot better when Lane was here. He really did everything for us, he played inside and outside. He could bring the ball up the floor.
“Lane was so athletic, he used to run the quarter for us—and throw the shot put. That’s a pretty rare combination. I’m not surprised at all by Lane’s success. There’s a great story with Lane recently. About two years ago, we had a linebacker here in Groveton that was a really good player. He was about 235 pounds and can run. He and Lane were really good friends. Lane was working out with him and they were picking at each other one day. The linebacker kid was saying how he could outrun Lane.”
So Parker brought them out to a track and Johnson raced the smaller—perceived faster—kid. Imagine a mini-locomotive and you have an idea of Johnson coming at you.
“They literally ran five or six 40-yard dashes and the linebacker kid can’t touch Lane, I mean can’t even get close to him, that’s when we started to realize Lane could be really, really something,” Parker recalled. “Lane was probably 285 pounds at that point.”
Eagles’ head coach Chip Kelly better watch himself though. One time at Oklahoma, Johnson was being videoed doing impressions of his teammates. He needs a little time, but when he gets someone down, he nails it. His Sooner teammates kept pestering Johnson to mimic Sooners’ coach Bob Stoops—and Johnson kept saying no.
When he finally relented, he nailed Stoops Southern draw perfectly—and about that same time Stoops walked in and everyone laughed.
One time the gangly kid running around the track may have been comical to others watching. No one is laughing at Lane Johnson’s fast feet now.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.