Florida 2025 running back Donovan Johnson may only be entering his sophomore year of high school, but he’s well-versed on Ohio State’s longstanding tradition of developing elite ball carriers.
“I think of Ezekiel Elliott, Eddie George, all of the greats and all that,” Johnson said.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound running back has had plenty of reason to research the Buckeyes over the past few months. On May 3, OSU running backs coach Tony Alford stopped by Calvary Day High School (Savannah, Georgia), to offer Johnson a scholarship. He was only the second running back the Buckeyes offered in the 2025 cycle.
“It was fantastic,” Johnson said of receiving his Ohio State offer. “Because it’s THE Ohio State University. Coach Alford came down to see me, and it was really awesome. Instantly, we connected.”
He caught Alford’s attention after he burst onto the national recruiting scene with a prolific freshman season, running for 1,336 yards on 170 carries (7.9 yards per carry) and scoring 10 rushing touchdowns while averaging 102.8 yards per game. He also caught 14 passes for 129 yards and his standout season led to 16 Division I scholarship offers. Based on his frame and production, Johnson, who transferred to IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida) in the offseason, has the early billing of a potential five-star recruit.
“It was great,” Johnson said in May of his big year. “My line helped me out a lot and my quarterback threw me some great passes. Without them, I couldn’t have been as successful as I was this year. I’m truly blessed to have them, and I’m truly blessed to do what I did this year. I put in the work in the offseason and I’m dedicated to my craft in practice.”
Johnson’s fast rise is why it’s so vital Alford develop a relationship with the bruising running back early. So far, so good, as Johnson took his first visit to OSU on June 15 and loved his time in Columbus. It was Johnson’s first opportunity to receive coaching by Alford, as he went through a private workout with him in-between sessions at an Ohio State recruiting camp.
“I talk to coach Alford every day,” Johnson said after the workout. “It’s always a family atmosphere here. It’s great, I love coach Alford, I love the head coach, I love everybody.”
One of the most important factors to Johnson early in his recruitment is relationships, and coaches that will get to know him outside of a football lens. While Alford and Johnson talk daily according to the Florida running back, hardly any of the conversations have to do with football.
“We don’t really talk football like that, it’s just him getting to know me and better my relationship with him,” Johnson said.
During drills, Johnson’s burst and power running style were evident. Alford also put him through pass-catching and ball security drills as well. After his workout, Johnson sat down with Alford and dissected the film of the workout. While on his visit, he also met Ryan Day.
“It was great,” Johnson said of the workout. “I’m trying to do better and perfect my craft. Turn into a better receiver. I'm just really just trying to turn into an all-around back. I love coach Alford, he’ll tell me what I need to work on and he doesn’t sugarcoat anything.”
Considering he’s only going into his sophomore year of high school, Johnson is a long way from making any college decision. But OSU has certainly put itself in a strong position moving forward for the talented running back, who makes no reservations about wanting to visit Columbus more.
“I’m going to come to (Ohio State) as many times as I can because I love it,” Johnson said.