Ron Vanderlinden has coached linebackers long enough to identify that certain, instinctual knack for the position.
He sees it in Air Force sophomore Kyle Johnson.
“He really emerged at the end of last season as a Grant Ross-type of a player. A very aggressive, good instinctual, attacking linebacker,” said Vanderlinden, who has left his imprint on defenses at Colorado, Northwestern and Penn State, among others, over the past four decades. “It was subtle as the season went on, but he just demonstrated a knack for knowing when to press on in scrimmage and take a chance, and he was usually right.”
Johnson, from Jacksonville, Fla., is in position to enter his junior year as a starter after a sophomore campaign that included a blocked punt against UNLV.
Air Force’s football media policy limits availability only to players entering their senior year, so Johnson was not made available for an interview. But others were glowing in their appraisal of the linebacker.
“He’s crazy athletic,” fellow linebacker Brody Bagnall said. “That’s what I see. He’s an athlete. He’s a go-getter. He has high ambition. That's the biggest thing about Kyle Johnson is his ambition to go do things and get things done. He’s probably one of the most highly intrinsically motivated guys I’ve ever met. He’s younger than me, but I look up to that factor in his life.”
As for that “knack,” Vanderlinden is excited to see it continue to develop in Johnson over the next two years.
“You’re trying to coach it, but some guys just have it,” Vanderlinden said. “You coach the daylights out of it, but it’s natural for a linebacker to see an opening and say, ‘I can do that,’ and just instantaneously take it and make a play.”