Rodas Johnson's first scholarship offer - at least initially - didn't feel like a dream-fulfilling opportunity, or even a payoff for years of hard work.
The high school sophomore wasn't taking football seriously when he received a full-ride from Bowling Green. He defined himself as a basketball player, and football simply served as something he could do with friends and somewhere that allowed him to release his anger.
"I was really shocked because I didn't know what to do," Johnson said. "I realized I could get free school to help my family, so that's when I started taking it seriously. ... (Basketball) was my favorite sport, but I realized I wasn't going to be 6-10."
Johnson transferred to St. Francis De Sales High School in Columbus, Ohio, the following year, phased out basketball, gained 40 pounds and became a highly sought after defensive end prospect. Before his high school career finished, he attracted offers from Penn State, Florida, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas and a number of other Power Five programs.
He'll move to Madison this summer and try to fit in with a defensive line group that's still a bit short on experience.
"He's very athletic - great feet, great bend, fast," said De Sales High coach Ryan Wiggins. "For a guy who's 270-plus pounds, that's hard to find.
"He's still young. He's probably still not even shaving his face. ... There's so much upside and so much potential."
Johnson considered quitting football entirely back in seventh grade. He wanted to play quarterback, but his size made him more useful at the less glamorous positions of offensive and defensive line.
That didn't mean Johnson wasn't still one of the fastest and most athletic players on his team - a reality that at times frustrated him more than anything.
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"He could do everything that our skill position players could do, and he knew that," Olentangy Shanahan Middle School coach Jason Velazquez said. "We let him play some H-back and do some of those things, just to keep him engaged, and he continued to play.
"I said, 'RJ, you have things that you can't teach, that you can't coach. You have God-given talent that these other kids just don't have.'"
Velazquez, who remains a mentor for Johnson as he prepares to begin his college career, noticed Johnson's Division-I potential years before that offer from Bowling Green.
While Johnson's yet to near his ceiling as a player, Wiggins said Johnson's capable of finding success at defensive end, nose tackle or even on the offensive side of the ball at UW.
"His versatility is one of the things that makes him so intriguing," Wiggins said.
Only two-plus years removed from focusing on the sport, Johnson will arrive at UW this summer with plenty of room to grow.
Johnson admitted he's technically not quite where he'll need to be to contribute on the Division-I level, but he prides himself on being coachable and won't lack the athleticism needed to keep up with the rest at his position.
"His athleticism is something that's going to be off the charts for him," Velazquez said. "I think once (the Badgers) get him in their weight room, he's going to be able to go in there and contribute right away for them."