Connect with us


How Leon Johnson III Went from Division-III All-American to Power Five Playmaker

‘These guys were the ones that found me. So I kinda chose here.’



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

STILLWATER — When Leon Johnson III entered the transfer portal after last season, he said there wasn’t initially much fanfare.

Johnson was a Division-III All-American who caught 55 passes for 1,156 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 10 games at George Fox. But still, Johnson said the initial interest in him out of the portal came from other Division-III schools and some Division-II schools.

Until Oklahoma State found him.

Johnson announced an OSU offer Jan. 8. Almost immediately after, he had offers to Arizona and San Diego State, but the Washington native grew a sense of loyalty to the first Division-I program to show interest in him.

“These guys were the ones that found me,” Johnson said. “So I kinda chose here.”

It’s worked out incredibly well for Oklahoma State and Johnson, especially as of late. The initial plan was for Johnson to redshirt this season, spend another year with Division-I coaching and weight training, then make a push at playing next season. But injuries at receiver quickly changed those plans.

“We didn’t have anybody else — nobody with any experience,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “We have young guys in our program that aren’t ready to play. When you play players that are young in your program that are not ready to play, most cases good things don’t happen.

“… We would’ve loved to have him back next year, but we didn’t have any other options, other than go youth and inexperience — bad combination.”

Johnson burned his redshirt by playing in Oklahoma State’s 27-24 victory against Bedlam rival Oklahoma. Johnson had five catches for 70 yards a week removed from going for 149 yards against Cincinnati. With his college career now on the clock, Johnson has made an instant impact on OSU’s winning streak.

“I’m not sure if I want to say I’m more locked in,” Johnson said. “I wanna say I’m just more realizing, like, ‘OK, I need to show myself now,’ instead of I get to build up and get another year to get my name known a little bit. But now it’s just, now is my time. I need to show that whenever my name is called.”

It’s a wonder how someone with Johnson’s 6-foot-5 frame went Division-III in the first place. Johnson played at Bothell High School in Washington, where he had 24 catches for 334 yards and three touchdowns as a senior.

Once football ended, Johnson was on the baseball field. He said he thinks part of the reason he went Division-III had to do with him not attending camps during the spring and summer because he was playing baseball. He said he just took what was given to him.

Johnson said George Fox visited his school, so that’s where he went. He ended up playing on the gridiron and the diamond at George Fox, hitting .269 with nine RBIs and two home runs as a sophomore in 2021.

The George Fox football team went 8-2 in 2022 with Johnson leading the charge. He had more than 100 receiving yards in eight games and caught at least one touchdown in eight games. He played so well that he didn’t get to return to the George Fox baseball team that next spring because he was in Stillwater with the Cowboy football team.

George Fox’s Stoffer Family Stadium has a permanent seating capacity of about 2,700. Within minutes of the final whistle blowing on Saturday there were more people than that on the field at Boone Pickens Stadium, all celebrating a piece of joy a Division-III transfer helped create.

“My whole life, my dad and people have told me, like, ‘You have the body to be a D-I football player,’ but I’m not sure if I ever really believed that myself,” Johnson said. “I was just kinda playing football because I loved playing football. I wasn’t really trying to look for the big screen or all the fame and stuff that comes with it. I love playing football, so I’m going to do it when I can.”

Most Read