Back in the game

Keyshawn Johnson, Brian Kelly back on the sidelines, this time as coaches

Originally Published: March 19, 2011
By Mitch Sherman | ESPN Recruiting

LAS VEGAS -- Minutes after the first of his four games ended on Saturday, Keyshawn Johnson -- Coach Johnson to the 21 high school athletes on the roster of 1925 All-Stars -- waited near the edge of a practice field at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

He stood patiently until one of his receivers passed nearby. A former three-time Pro Bowl receiver, Johnson pulled the kid aside and offered firm but encouraging words.

Keyswhawn Johnson
Mitch ShermanKeyshawn Johnson coaches the offense, but is focused on helping players on and off the field.
Team 1925 lost its opening game at the Badger Sports Elite 7-on-7 competition, but Johnson promised better performances ahead.

"It's all about teaching," said Johnson, who coaches the team with fellow former NFL and Southern California star Brian Kelly. "Teach kids how to play football and be responsible in life."

The team is named after the jersey numbers of Johnson and Kelly. And their stamp is all over this group.

Johnson, 38, earned All-America honors at USC and went No. 1 overall to the New York Jets in 1996 NFL draft. Kelly, 35, a cornerback, tied for the NFL lead with eight interceptions to help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl crown after the 2003 season.

Their new team rebounded to win its second game at the two-day event, one of five regional Badger camps this year before the national championship in July.

"Playing for Keyshawn and Brian Kelly, it's top notch," said Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian receiver Jordan Payton. "Some people look at them and are scared to talk. I mean, he's Keyshawn Johnson, but he's great. They both are. They've taught us a lot."

Johnson and Kelly plan to create a documentary for television on recruiting that involves their work with the 7-on-7 team. They're also staging a series of camps this spring to spread their message.

"You start small and you grow," Johnson said. "It's not going to pay the mortgage."

Kelly said the players listen to their coaching.

"It's more about off-the-field stuff," he said. "Yeah, they're going to learn football skills, but it's about being men, being good sportsmen."

Johnson and Kelly brought a group to Las Vegas that includes Payton, committed to USC for more than a year, defensive back and fellow ESPNU 150 Watch List member Ishmael Adams (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian), receiver Bryce Treggs (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), receiver Randall Goforth (Long Beach, Calif./Polytechnic) and receiver Kodi Whitfield (Los Angeles/Loyola) among its major-college prospects for 2012.

Johnson works with the offense and stays largely sudbued on the sideline during play, while Kelly, the defensive coach, appears more animated. They both stress basics above all else when coaching.

"The fundamentals they get are terrible," Johnson said. "I try to help correct them but also teach them to be successful and take pride in what they're doing. I've got a life of my own, but I want to make an impact on kids because I have an opportunity to do it."

Still, it is two former NFL players on the sidelines and heads turn wherever they walk.

"They bring a lot of interest to it," event organizer Baron Flanery said. "Those guys being involved validates it in the eyes of the kids."

USC-commit Payton listening to other schools
Payton earned his scholarship offer from USC during a breakout sophomore year. He remains committed to the Trojans, he said, though he's looking elsewhere.

"I didn't think the recruiting process would be this hectic," he said. "It's crazy."

Coaches from other schools have told him he committed too early. So does he agree?

"I'm not worried about it right now," Payton said. "I'm just chilling."

He said Michigan, Florida and California have continued to recruit him the hardest.

"They're cool," he said. "It's hard not to listen to Charlie Weis and Jeff Tedford when they're hitting you up."

Cyphers
Williams
Youth is served
Dozens of players among more than 30 teams at the Badger event have earned scholarship offers. But few got them as early as cornerback Malik Cyphers and quarterback Troy Williams, both of Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne High School.

Cyphers, a freshman, received an offer from Southern Methodist barely a month into his high school career last fall. He's playing in Las Vegas for the 1925 All-Stars.

"I was very surprised," Cyphers said, "but I'm staying humble and just playing the game I love."

He's in no hurry to pick a college at age 15.

"I'm expecting a lot more [offers]," he said.

Washington and Nevada offered Williams, 16, during his sophomore year.

"I accepted it, ran with it and kept working hard," Williams said, "because nothing is guaranteed."

Like Cyphers, Williams waits anxiously for more. An offer from one school would especially please the quarterback.

"Oregon," he said. "I love the shotgun offense and run it at my school."

Lineman comes up big
ESPNU 150 Watch List offensive guard Jordan Simmons (Encino, Calif./Crespi Carmelite) participated among more than 40 players in the Badger Sport Elite Lineman Challenge on Saturday morning.

Simmons said he holds approximately 25 scholarship offers. He plans to announce a decision on signing day next February.

"It's a privilege," he said. "I just want to enjoy it."

At 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds, Simmons ran the 10-yard dash in 1.91 seconds, among the best times posted in Las Vegas.

Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mshermanespn@gmail.com.