At age 27, Papillion native Scott Johnston already has worked for a list of college football bosses that would make some lifers in the sport jealous.
Bill Callahan. Bo Pelini. Turner Gill. Charlie Weis. Kevin Sumlin.
“I've been fortunate to be able to learn a lot in a short amount of time,” said Johnston, the new director of football recruiting at preseason national title contender Texas A&M.
“From the changes I've been through and different ways of doing things that I've seen in my six years, I've just tried to be a sponge. There are things you learn at each place that you pick up and take to the next one.”
Working for football programs such as Nebraska, Kansas and Texas A&M wasn't on Johnston's mind after graduating from Papillion-La Vista High in 2004 as valedictorian and a three-sport letterman.
The plan? Dental school at Nebraska.
But near the end of his sophomore year in Lincoln, some of Johnston's friends who worked as hosts for Husker recruiting weekends drafted him to help. That put him in position to get hired the next fall when a student-worker position opened in the recruiting office under Callahan.
After Callahan was fired and Bo Pelini was hired, Johnston was retained. He continued work toward dental school, even taking the entrance exams. Then upon graduation in 2008, Pelini offered a full-time position as a recruiting operations intern.
“That's when I said dental school can wait,” Johnston said. “This is a unique opportunity. It was a pretty easy choice.”
Staying in an athletic/academic environment was natural for Johnston.
His parents, Chuck and Kathy, are longtime Papillion-La Vista educators. Chuck was a former girls basketball coach and principal who will retire this spring as the school's athletic director.
A key connection in Johnston's rapid rise in the recruiting ranks has been Pelini, who made phone calls on Johnston's behalf — along with Husker assistants John Papuchis and Tim Beck — to help him get hired at Kansas and Texas A&M.
“If it wasn't for coach Bo, I might be in dental school still today,” Johnston said. “I've been fortunate to have him help me figure out what I want to do.”
Johnston worked through last season at Kansas. His connection to getting a job under head coach Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M this winter was with Aggie wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator David Beaty, who had been at KU.
“The director of recruiting at A&M left to go with Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech,” Johnston said. “So Coach Beaty brought my name up to Coach Sumlin.
“Coach Pelini and Coach Sumlin are pretty close friends, so I asked Coach Bo to help me again. Sure enough, the next day, I was getting a call from Coach Sumlin.”
The first question to anyone who works with Texas A&M football is how well do you know Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel?
“He just stopped in the office a few minutes ago,” Johnston said from College Station, Texas. “I've spent some good time with him. He's a special, special kid and a special talent.”
Many things are special in Texas A&M football now under Sumlin, a three-time national coach of the year finalist. Among those the staff pondered during a recent booster-funded retreat to Cabo San Lucas:
The Aggies' successful move to the Southeastern Conference; Manziel winning the Heisman as a freshman; the thrashing of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl; and getting hype as a 2013 title contender.
All of that elicits wide smiles in the recruiting office.
“The exposure the Texas A&M brand has gotten has been tremendous,” Johnston said. “That's not something you can print up in a mailer and create.
“This comes from success and capitalizing on it at the right moment. It makes recruiting easier when kids know your brand because of Johnny and Coach Sumlin. It's been a whirlwind, but for us that's a great thing.”
Johnston, who married last summer, said he hopes to stay in college football operations with the long-term goal of becoming an athletic director or associate A.D. for football.
As for dental school, Johnston said, “I think that ship has probably sailed.”
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