NEW ORLEANS (WIS) - Clemson senior safety Denzel Johnson impressed former A.C. Flora coach Reggie Shaw right away.
Johnson's charisma and freakish athletic talents immediately won the Falcons’ leader over.
"He could jump out of the gym,” Shaw said. “He could run with anybody. But, we noticed something early on, he couldn't see well."
"I just played football,” the former A.C. Flora standout said. “I was just so focused on football and everything. I didn't really care at that moment."
"I was an anatomy teacher,” he said. “So, I gave him an eye test. It was terrible."
Johnson's vision was so bad, he had trouble catching passes.
"These deep balls keep coming and I see it at the last minute,” Johnson recalled. “I kind of need contacts."
So, before his junior year, Shaw made sure Johnson had perfect eyesight with new contacts. However, the clear vision for Shaw was to address Johnson's grades. They were not good. So, Shaw's next goal was to push Johnson to be better in the classroom to create an opportunity beyond high school.
"Denzel trusted,” Shaw said. “Realized the vision we had for him was a lot grander than he had for himself. I remember a conversation. “He wanted to be a barber. Son, you have the talent to go onto D-1 football and own barbershops. He never thought of it like that."
"I can see all of that,” Johnson said. “Everything he said was true."
Along with better vision, Johnson's grades began to improve from his sophomore to junior year.
"It helped a lot to be able to see everything instead of taking notes," Johnson said.
Tiger dreams felt more realistic. By Johnson's senior season, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney saw Johnson's athletic ability firsthand.
"Played Daniel when his son was there,” Shaw remembered. “Denzel just dominated the game. He was unstoppable."
It sold Swinney. He offered Johnson a scholarship the young man had to finish earning in the classroom.
"It motivated me a lot to see his eyes. So true about it," Johnson said.
Swinney held the scholarship until Johnson completed his senior year at Flora in May 2015. Johnson made the grades and the rest is Tigers' history.
"I got three championship appearances, won two already. It's great already!" Johnson said.
“Talk about what could have been and what it is,” Shaw said. “The fruits of your labor and being apart of that. That one decision made a huge impact.”