Two Wolverine Stars, Generations Apart, Now Coaching Power 5 College Football Together
By: Garrett Mitchell, Staff Writer
B.J. Johnson was in a football staff meeting at the University of Colorado when his phone rang. On the other end was his coaching mentor and fellow Woodruff native Derek Jones. Johnson, then a graduate assistant for the Buffaloes’ program, thought that perhaps Jones needed some information on a prospective athlete, but the purpose of Jones’s call was so much more than that.
Jones, an associate head coach, co-defensive coordinator, and secondary coach at Texas Tech University, wanted to bring Johnson to Lubbock as a graduate assistant for the Red Raiders.
“Coach Jones called me one day out of the blue,” explained Johnson. “We always kept in touch from time to time because he is a mentor to me in this profession. When I saw his name come across my phone, I figured it might be about a kid that he needed information on, but it was a possible opportunity to interview here at Tech.”
For B.J., the opportunity was a no-brainer. The BIG12 Conference is not only home to some of the most competitive Power 5 football programs in the country, but coming to Lubbock would unite Johnson and Jones. It is a reunion of two Woodruff Wolverine football greats, stars who wore the Maroon and Gold generations apart and who are no strangers to winning.
Jones, the Wolverines’ stand-out running back during his playing days under legendary coach Willie Varner, led Woodruff to the 1991 2A state championship game. Johnson, Woodruff’s all-time leading wide receiver in yards and touchdowns, was a part of three Wolverine teams whose combined record was 32-8 and made two appearances in the state semifinals.
Jones always knew he wanted Johnson with him at Texas Tech.
“The biggest thing about B.J. is his hunger to be successful,” said Jones. “When B.J. first got into the coaching profession, he reached out to me and asked me for mentorship. Naturally, with us being from the same hometown and knowing each other, I was more than glad to do it. I have been so impressed with his diligence, being observant, and asking questions. He has great attention to detail.”
Jones has coached at the collegiate level for over two decades, including a 12-year tenure at Duke University, where he served as the secondary coach for the Blue Devils. Johnson played collegiately at Georgia Southern before serving as a graduate assistant at Savannah State University and the University of Colorado. Johnson has always been selective regarding coaching opportunities. Still, when Jones called, he knew that a potential role on the Texas Tech staff would be a good move.
“B.J. has been very strategic about the decisions he has made in the profession,” Jones said. “When someone is young, you want to know they are in the coaching profession for the right reasons because a lot of people get into college coaching in particular for the money and prestige. That’s a bad reputation that you can get in this profession, and young coaches need to know and understand that. B.J. is building his brand in all the right ways.”
Johnson added, “(Coach Jones) played a huge role because I didn’t know anybody on staff (at Texas Tech). I trusted his judgment when he said this would be a good opportunity for me being young in this profession. Coach Jones has been mentoring me since college, so that’s nothing new for me, but now that we’re in the same building, I’m always in his office.”
Johnson worked with the safeties at Colorado, but at Texas Tech, he helps coach the slot wide receivers in the Red Raiders’ wide-open spread offense. It is the position he is most familiar. Looking at Johnson, Jones sees a young coach with a passion for winning who is already ahead of where he was at the same age.
“I always say that I want to identity guys who are better than I was or more seasoned than I was at that age,” he said. “My eye is always on young people who exceed what I had. At this point in his career, B.J. far exceeds where I was because of his attention to detail. He’s a guy in the office a lot who gets here early and leaves late. Even on off days, that young man is up there in the office at the direction of nobody trying to better himself.”
Though the start of the new college football season is still five months away, Jones and Johnson are simply enjoying working together with spring practice in the books. Two former Woodruff Wolverines who are used to winning want to instill that love of the game learned back home into the Texas Tech players they coach every day in Lubbock.
Johnson is grateful for the opportunity.
“It’s pretty cool to coach with a man at this level that’s from the same town, from a place like woodruff,” Johnson said. “I think having two people from the same small town sends a message to the younger kids to believe in yourself and know you belong with the best of them regardless of where they’re from. The connection is awesome because we have the same mindset, and that’s why I look up to Coach Jones. We both believe in who we are, and we know from where we come. He’s had so much success and longevity in a tough business. I think he’s a guy we don’t talk about enough in the Woodruff community. He’s a great coach and even better person.”
Jones added, “I’m glad to have B.J. here, and the fact we both wore Maroon and Gold, regardless of the era, is something about which we will be able to smile. Longevity in coaching is one thing that is not promised, so when you have an opportunity like this, you cherish it. Not many coaches get to do something like this, two guys coaching together at a Power 5 school from Woodruff, South Carolina. I’m proud of my hometown, and I’m proud somebody from my hometown is here cutting his teeth in a profession we both love. He’s having fun and making me proud. He is good at what he does, and he is a great addition to our team and college football.”