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ASU Football: Cam Johnson hopes to bring spark on the field at ASU, and meaningful change through NIL

The four-star Vandy transfer will have a shot at immediate playing time, and looks to utilize NIL in a different way than most

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Forty-eight percent.

That is how much of the total Sun Devil receiving production (including running backs) left for the transfer portal this offseason. If you loop in the players who went professional, 80% of the receiving yards in 2021 came from players who are no longer on the team.

Enter Camron “Cam” Johnson.

Johnson is Herm Edwards’s latest portal acquisition. A four-star receiver prospect from Vanderbilt, Johnson corralled 1,233 yards receiving and ten touchdowns in four years as a Commodore. In 2020, he was the team’s leading receiver with 56 catches for 545 yards and three touchdowns.

One of the major selling-points for Johnson was ASU’s recent success in turning its wide receivers into NFL Draft picks. From 2019-2021, N’Keal Harry, Brandon Aiyuk and Frank Darby were all drafted, with Harry and Aiyuk becoming first-round picks.

“There was just so much NFL experience and insight there that it was a hard opportunity to pass up when my goal is ultimately to go to the NFL,” he said.

At six-feet tall and 200 pounds, Johnson is best known for his route-running ability. He will tell you that he’s simply a playmaker.

“I played running back all the way through high school,” Johnson said. “So the best part of my game, I think, is once I get the ball in my hands, being able to make someone miss and break tackles, those kind of things.”

At the mention of the ever-popular “Deebo Samuel role,” Johnson chuckled and assured he is happy to utilize his skills however offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas sees fit. Like the rest of his teammates, Johnson will have to learn a new playbook in Thomas’s first year in Tempe, a practice with which he is familiar.

“I think I’m also a smart football player,” Johnson said. “I’ve played under four offensive coordinators in four years and had success.”

Building a Brand while Making a Difference

It is no secret that the lack of NIL deals in the Valley have driven players away from ASU. It seems that those tides may finally be turning. Recently, news about a booster-backed NIL collective for ASU athletes is in the works. Johnson has seen the reports.

“Of course that’s cool, I’m glad to see it,” he said. That would definitely be something that I want to take part in. It’s just something I have to sort of talk to (my agent) about.”

Johnson was happy to offer a glimpse into the athlete’s side of the ever-changing landscape of college athletics. He is currently represented by Don Povia of Transition Sports and Entertainment, and the two have spent the last year building Johnson’s personal brand before going on the offensive for brand deals.

As an athlete, his goals align with most: win a bowl game, make it to the NFL and make a name for himself.

That last part is complex, but a necessity in today’s climate. NIL opportunities are becoming more of a priority for college football players, but Johnson utilizes his freedom to earn in a way to showcase his values and make positive change. One of those ways is through his status as an official ambassador for the National Down Syndrome Society, where he donated half the proceeds from his own branded t-shirt sales.

“I told (Povia), ‘Hey, I want to be able to give back to somebody as well not just make more money,’” he said.

“I really just fell in love with people who had Down syndrome (at a high school event). I thought they were super sweet and I just felt an instant connection to them and the National Down Syndrome Society. And so that was always sort of in the back of my mind to do something someday with them.”

He hopes that with a potential NFL career, he can start his own non-profit organization benefiting those who are disabled.

Transfer portal woes are not the only reason ASU is negatively portrayed in the national spotlight. The NCAA is still investigating potential recruiting violations within the Sun Devil program during the Covid-19 dead period.

“It was definitely something that scared me a little bit,” Johnson said. “I’ve only got two years remaining. So hopefully, it won’t be something that affects me while I’m there. But if it does, I mean, the goal stays the same. We want to win. And I think that regardless of what the sanctions are passed down, if it is during my time, that we’re still gonna be able to get that done.”

For the Fans

ASU fans have reacted positively to Johnson’s signing, as he is a proven product that has had success against SEC talent. It was ironic, yet humorous, to Johnson when he realized he has clashed with Valley fans before, albeit harmlessly.

After all, there is a tall reputation to match if your name is Cam Johnson and you are an athlete in Phoenix.

“I played basketball when I was younger, and my Twitter account was @CamJohnson_23,” Johnson said. (Phoenix Suns forward Cam Johnson wears No. 23)

He added. “And he doesn’t have Twitter, so the amount of times I’ve (been) tweeted at, either by mad or happy fans, is crazy. So I started to respond to people like I was him. It’s fun to see their reactions.”

Those same fans will have similar expectations for Johnson on Saturdays.

Johnson has not yet visited Tempe, but he plans on making the trip down at the end of the month. He has talked to a few teammates, including defensive end B.J. Green and fellow transfer Emory Jones, along with many members of the coaching staff.

When he arrives, he plans on firing up the console and live-streaming some video games, something he plans on doing to engage with ASU fans.

“If you’re into gaming, I’m probably the best college athlete gamer out there,” he said.

Online, he can be found at twitch.com/CamJohnson_23. On the field, the first glimpse of Johnson will be caught at fall practice in late July. In the meantime, there is some relationship-building that needs to take place. Johnson did not get to develop with the team during spring practice. For a team that has seen a lot of turnover, chemistry is a priority.

“I think that if (my teammates) can trust me off the field just by doing things like hanging out and things like that, that that directly leads to on field success and sort of trust,” he said. “And so by doing those two things, I think we will be perfectly fine.”