As a child, Matt Johnson’s Thanksgivings were all about family – and the Dallas Cowboys.
Johnson’s football dreams came full circle Saturday morning when the Cowboys chose the strong safety out of Eastern Washington in the fourth round of the National Football League draft.
“My dad grew up as a Cowboys fan, so I did, too, and we watched a lot of their games,” Johnson said. “I even had an Emmitt Smith jersey – it was the first one received.”
The family, including twin brother Zach, a senior linebacker at EWU, gathered again this weekend in a local hotel to wait and hope. Johnson, from Tumwater, Wash., was projected by most experts to be drafted in the final rounds – or not at all.
“I guess you could say it was surprising by what people were predicting,” Johnson said. “I knew the Cowboys were interested in me based on the workout I had for them in Dallas. But I had confidence in myself and my testing numbers from our pro day were good.”
Johnson is only the third player in school history to be drafted in the fourth round or higher. Michael Roos was taken in the second round by the Tennessee Titans in 2005 and Taiwan Jones was picked by the Oakland Raiders in the fourth round in 2011. Both play for those teams.
“I’m sure the injury and being from a FCS (NCAA Football Championship Subdivision) school probably is why people had me picked later or not drafted at all,” Johnson said. “But I knew the fourth round was possible. When I met the coaches, they were able to see what kind of person I am and how smart of a football player I am.”
Johnson will fly to Dallas today to meet the Cowboy coaches and participate in a minicamp.
Johnson, who finished his Eastern career with 341 tackles to rank fifth in school history and eighth all time in the Big Sky, missed Eastern’s last four games of his senior season with a biceps injury.
Playing with a painful biceps tendon injury since the second game of the 2011 season, Johnson underwent surgery Oct. 27 as his 45-game career came to a premature ending.
“What he’s been able to accomplish here has been amazing, both individually and what he has helped us accomplish as a team,” Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin said. “He can certainly hold his head up high – he’s a great ambassador for our program.”
He finished his career just one interception away from the school record of 18 set by Mike Richter from 1971-75.
Johnson is tied with former NFL veteran Kurt Schulz (EWU letter winner 1988-91) and long-time Canadian Football League standout Jackie Kellogg (1990-93), who both have 17 each. Johnson was also only nine interception return yards from the record of 219 held by Schulz, and his six career forced fumbles are tied for the school record along with J.C. Sherritt (2007-10) and Chris Scott (1994-97).
Johnson had 341 tackles in his career to move into fifth all time at Eastern – just five from moving into fourth (Derek Strey had 346 from 1994-97) and only six from third (Jason Marsh had 347 from 1991-93). Johnson had five interceptions in 2010 to help Eastern lead the FCS with 26.