By Maurice Patton
Over a twisting and turning path from the Tuscaloosa, Ala., high school ranks to a baseball scholarship at Ole Miss, Brandon Johnson’s faith has been at the forefront – particularly as he contemplated his next move after a shortened 2020 campaign at Columbia State.
“I’m a religious guy. I prayed a lot about it,” Johnson said this weekend after announcing his commitment via Twitter. “I’ve learned through my long journey of recruitment that relationships are one of the most important things, if not the most important.
“If you can find a right fit for yourself, you can be confident and comfortable with where you’re going. That’s the ultimate decision-maker.”
With the Chargers’ season – and all of college baseball – halted as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Ole Miss coaches were unable to see Johnson in live action this spring and vice versa. Still, he felt secure in tabbing the Rebels over Southeastern Conference rivals Alabama and Kentucky as well as Purdue and Jacksonville State.
“Before everything went down with the coronavirus, they were recruiting me,” Johnson said. “They were supposed to come see me the weekend (March 13-14, at Jackson State) that everything got canceled. But they relied on video and reports from different coaches.
“I really liked the coaching staff, and the atmosphere. And right now, they’re on a 16-game win streak. So, recent history, they’re right up there with the best in the SEC. I couldn’t turn it down.”
After opening the season with a Valentine’s Day loss to Louisville, Ole Miss had won 16 straight heading into their scheduled SEC opener against LSU before play was stopped.
Johnson, a 6-foot, 185-pound right-hander who initially signed with Alabama-Huntsville out of Brookwood High School, was similarly hot this spring. In his first two outings, he worked seven innings – striking out 20 with two walks to earn National Junior College Athletic Association Pitcher of the Week honors.
He continued his good work over the Chargers’ 9-15 (3-3 TCCAA) schedule, posting a 5-0 record with a 2.48 earned run average and 51 strikeouts in 29 innings.
“After my redshirt freshman year, we had our exit meetings after the (TCCAA tournament) loss to Dyersburg State,” Johnson said. “Coach (Mike) Corn told me if I had a good offseason, worked on some things, I had a good chance to play (NCAA Division I) Power 5 or even SEC ball. I got to the spring, and it all just clicked together.”
On an upward trajectory after going 3-0 with a save, a 3.31 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 51.2 innings in his first year at C-State, Johnson is ready for whatever role is in store for him at Ole Miss.
“They expect to lose two or three guys to the (Major League Baseball) draft,” he said. “Hopefully I can be of help to them. But it depends on the fall and getting everybody lined up.
“They’ll put me in the place that best benefits them.”