Belle Vernon's Johnson leads local contingent drafted Saturday
The phone rang in Jackie Johnson's living room in Monessen on Saturday afternoon, and 15 people immediately stopped talking.
It was the Arizona Cardinals calling for Jackie's grandson, Dorian Johnson. The Cardinals were getting ready to draft Johnson, a former Pitt guard and Belle Vernon graduate, in the fourth round.
“They called 15 minutes before the pick was announced, and everybody got quiet,” Johnson said. “Then, when it was announced, everyone went crazy.”
Johnson, the 115th overall selection, was one five Pitt players drafted, the largest number of Panthers selected by the NFL since five were taken in 2011. Others drafted were running back James Conner (third round, Steelers), quarterback Nathan Peterman (fifth round, Buffalo Bills), offensive tackle Adam Bisnowaty (sixth round, New York Giants) and outside linebacker Ejuan Price (seventh round, Los Angeles Rams).
Johnson's agent Joe Panos said Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told him he thought Johnson would be gone in the second round, but a medical condition in which Johnson's liver enzymes are five times higher than normal made teams wary, Panos said.
“He got lucky (Johnson was still available),” Panos said of Keim.
Johnson's condition was discovered at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, but Panos said Johnson has lived it with since birth without a problem, and it is treatable through medication.
“He was born with it, he's going to die with it, he's going to live to be 100,” Panos said.
The condition never affected Johnson at Pitt, where he started the last 40 games of his career.
Johnson thought he might be drafted earlier, but he wasn't sweating it.
“At the end of the day, my goal was to get into the NFL,” he said. “It didn't matter when.”
Johnson is the first Belle Vernon graduate drafted into the NFL since Penn State's Bill Contz went to the Cleveland Browns in 1983.
Johnson said he spoke to Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and several team officials. “(Arians) said he was excited to have me in the building and get to work.”
Johnson started playing football at the age of 5 “because my older cousins were playing.”
But by the fifth grade, he was thinking about an NFL career, he said and liked playing with the Cardinals in video games.
Finally, in high school, he became one of the most highly coveted offensive linemen in Pennsylvania. He signed a letter of intent with Pitt in February 2013, becoming the Panthers' first five-star offensive lineman.
There was no fanfare, only his Aunt Erica's camera to chronicle the moment.
At Pitt, Johnson became the first freshman to start on the Panthers' offensive line in seven years on Nov. 2, 2013, in a game against Georgia Tech. He struggled that night against pass rusher Jeremiah Attaochu, now a four-year veteran with the Los Angeles Chargers.
But Johnson was playing out of position — left tackle — to help a Pitt line beset by injuries. Adversity eventually made him stronger, and he didn't miss a start at left guard over 39 consecutive games during the next three seasons. Two Pitt coaching staffs discovered they couldn't do without him. Johnson, 22, never redshirted.
Last season, he became one of the most highly decorated offensive linemen in Pitt history, ascending to first-team All-American status as selected by the American Football Coaches Association, ESPN.com, SI.com and Sporting News.
Peterman, who was projected as high as the second round by some analysts, waited until the fifth round (171st overall) before he was drafted. He will be expected to provide competition for Bills starter Tyrod Taylor, who is signed for the next two seasons.
“I would love to say I wasn't (stressed),” said Peterman, who watched the draft from his family's beach house in Jacksonville, Fla. “But anytime you know your future is developing right in front of you and there are some crucial moments, there might have been a little stress. But that's why it was good to have my family and faith around me.”
Peterman is the 10th quarterback drafted by the Bills since the retirement of Jim Kelly in 1996. None have gone to the Pro Bowl.
Peterman's best game at Pitt occurred in one of the most difficult venues in college football — Clemson's Death Valley. Peterman threw five touchdown passes while leading Pitt to a 43-42 victory against eventual national champion Clemson.“I think Buffalo got an incredible steal in Nathan,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said in a statement. “He's a highly intelligent player and leader. There's a reason he was the ACC's passing efficiency leader (163.67) as a senior.”
Bisnowaty, a Fox Chapel graduate, was the 200th player drafted after starting 43 games over four seasons. He was twice chosen first-team All-ACC by conference coaches.
”Adam has all the qualities you want in an offensive lineman,” Narduzzi said. “Toughness, intelligence and relentlessness.”
Price, who is projected as an outside linebacker, recorded 29 ½ sacks as a defensive end at Pitt.
“Ejuan's production just jumps out at you, and I'm certain that's what impresses the Rams,” Narduzzi said.
Price, who will reunite with former Pitt teammate Aaron Donald in Los Angeles, is the 13th Woodland Hills graduate to reach the NFL.
West Virginia wide receiver Shelton Gibson (5-foot-11, 191 pounds) was drafted in the fifth round by the Philadelphia Eagles. Gibson, the 166th player selected, averaged 22.8 yards per catch the past two seasons.
Gateway graduate Montae Nicholson, a former three-sport standout, was chosen in the fourth round by the Washington Redskins (123rd overall). Nicholson, a 6-foot-2, 220-pounder, earned All-Big 10 honorable mention honors last season as a junior at Michigan State. He was the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review male high school athlete of the year in 2014.
Penn Hills' Treyvon Hester, a defensive tackle from Toledo, was drafted in the seventh round (244th).
Among the Pitt players signing as undrafted free agents were Scott Orndoff and Terrish Webb (Steelers), Bam Bradley (Ravens), Tyrique Jarrett and Shakir Soto (Broncos) and Ryan Lewis (Cardinals).
Jeannette's Demetrious Cox, a defensive back at Michigan State, will sign with the Bengals.