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May 9, 2011Since Malcolm Johnson began playing football he has always been a playmaking threat as a wide receiver.
The former three-star prospect was a star at Northridge (Ala.) High School and won two Rivals Ultimate100 MVP awards at combines during his prep career. But things changed this spring for Johnson after he was asked to change positions to tight end for the first time in his career.
"Spring was a lot of learning because I switched to tight end," Johnson said. "First of all I had to get my fundamentals down at tight end. I was thinking I was coming into spring trying to get a starting job at wide receiver but I had to start all over. It's been a learning process for me but it's okay."
Playing tight end in the slot was much the same as Johnson was accustomed to but the move inside was quite a challenge to get used to.
"Honestly in the box with the line there are a lot of things moving and a lot of quick dudes so you have to play with your head up and it's a thinking process," Johnson said. "At receiver you have a route or may have a read but as a lineman you may have three or four things you may change off to. So you have to look up and be thinking at the same time as you're playing."
The 6-foot-2, 218-pounder was forced to redshirt his freshman year after rebreaking a bone in his foot just before the start of fall camp. Johnson returned to practice for most of the year working at wide receiver and developed into one of the most reliable receivers by the time bowl preparations began.
"The redshirt really helped me and developed me as an overall player," Johnson said. "Coming out of high school everybody thinks they are ready to play but they're not. Being with (Matt) Balis a whole other year in the developmental program helped me get faster, stronger and helped my footwork. What we are built out of at Mississippi State is relentless effort so you have to let people know that you can't give in."
Johnson played in the highest classification in Alabama hauling in 39 passes for 598 yards as a senior with eight touchdowns. He also rushed 30 times for 137 yards and completed two of his three pass attempts.
"In Tuscaloosa we called 6A the baby SEC," Johnson said. "But obviously it's a jump. At the same time I'd like to think my high school program built me up to be ready for this with hard work. Even though we didn't do all of the things that we do here they still molded me to be ready for this."
Naturally living in a city with another Southeastern Conference school is located Johnson hears his fair share of ribbing from the Crimson Tide faithful.
"It's funny because I know a lot of guys that play for Alabama," Johnson said. "We all just joke around and people talk when I go back to Tuscaloosa about Alabama and this and that. It's always good to go in the barber shops and hear all of that. That's life and people are going to talk regardless. I've just got to show them on the field next year."
During the recruiting process Johnson received interest from Alabama and Florida State and also received a late offer from Cincinnati but decided just before his senior season to stick with the Bulldogs.
"I'm very happy and blessed," Johnson said. "If I could do it again I'd do it all over again and play for Mississippi State."