After three seasons at Tennessee State, Kendall Johnson was looking for a different challenge. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound edge rusher found it at UAB.
"I felt like with my size, my body and my effort, it wasn't going to get anywhere in football (if I stayed)," Johnson said. "It was going to be college and done. I didn't want that to be. I wanted to have a shot at going to the next level."
Johnson said his initial interest once he entered the transfer portal mostly came from other Ohio Valley Conference teams. He said his personal trainer sent video out to colleges to spark more interest, and UAB called. Once that happened, he said, recruiting picked up. But he already found a home at UAB.
Now, he's two sessions into spring practice with his new team. From all appearances, it looks like Johnson will be right in the middle of a search for a rotation at outside linebacker. UAB has some experienced pieces at that position with the return of Nikia Eason Jr., Jalen Mayala and Michael Fairbanks II, who could move inside and outside. Johnson is part of a group of newcomers that will include Desmond Little and Jamarcus Jones.
Johnson's route to Birmingham almost ended before he started. He was a successful player at Liberty Technology High in Jackson, Tennessee, but recruiters didn't notice. Johnson said part of the problem was a knee injury he suffered while playing basketball during his junior season. He also weighed in the neighborhood of 200 pounds.
Following his senior season, Johnson was selected to play in the West Tennessee All-Star Game.
"I really thought football wasn't going to go anywhere, for real," Johnson said. "I was just going to enjoy my last time. We had a good group of guys, good group of coaches. We just all balled out and had fun out there."
As it turned out, it finally kicked off his recruiting process. He heard from several programs after the game. He chose Tennessee State.
"Tennessee State was amazing," Johnson said. "I went there thinking I could gain my weight, get bigger, work on my craft and show I can make it at the next level. A lot of kids didn't make it to the next level coming out of my high school."
The first step was the weight gain. He showed up in Nashville weighing just over 200 pounds. By the end of his freshman season, he weighed 240 pounds. He played 27 games over three seasons, contributing 40 tackles and three sacks. He played under two coaching staffs, including playing for former NFL running back Eddie George this past season.
Now, he's at UAB, trying to take the next step as a player.
"It made me nervous at first," Johnson said. "I didn't want to make the wrong decision. I wanted to go to the right place where I could get the right skill set taught to me and the right environment. I didn't want to get into a situation where I couldn't better myself."
He found that at UAB.
"UAB is more than I imagined, way more," Johnson said. "The nutrition, the weight room, the facilities, all around environment. It's a great deal. It kind of humbles me, like don't get too comfortable, because you didn't start out here. There's always room for improvement. Once you believe in yourself and you have the right people putting that work into you, anything is possible. You can do anything with it."
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