Tyler Johnson literally burst onto the scene in his varsity linebacker debut for Ankeny Centennial.

On the first play of the game against Ankeny on Aug. 28, Johnson recovered a fumble and sprinted 26 yards on his way to the end zone.

The fluid scoop-and-score was a work of art and Johnson’s speed was on full display, something he worked on all offseason.

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Ankeny Centennial senior defensive back Tyler Johnson (26) scoops up the fumble and scores a touchdown as the No. 7 Ankeny Centennial Jaguars battle against the No. 2 Ankeny Hawks in the first half of play at the JagHawk Bowl during the Class 4A season opener on Friday, August 28, 2020 at Ankeny Stadium.  (Photo: Lee Navin/For the Register)

“I wanted to gain some speed and quickness and be able to move on the field while still being big,” Johnson said.

After COVID-19 cancelled his track season, Johnson, who primarily played running back last season, quickly went to work.

Enter former University of Iowa football long snapper Tyler Kluver.

Kluver, who hosts the Washed Up Walkons podcast with some of his former teammates at Iowa, was let go from his gym in the spring, and he made note of that in one of the podcast episodes.

It just so happens, Johnson’s father, Brad, is a listener of the show.

“I reached out on Twitter and said, ‘Hey, I’m a big fan of the show. I know you’re into fitness and you’ve lived the football world, how would you feel about doing some personal training?’” Brad Johnson said. “He was very receptive to that.”

Every Sunday morning from March until July, Johnson and Kluver met.

“There were multiple times on Saturdays when he’d be gone with family or at a camp,” Kluver said. “I would text him and be like, ‘Hey, are we working tomorrow or not?’ Because realistically, the day off may be better for him and he can recover. But he was always like, ‘No, I want to work. Let’s go to work.’”

Kluver and Johnson focused on the pro-agility drill and 40-yard dash, adding a mix of cone drills for added linear and lateral quickness.

“He really, over a three-to-four-month span, made some insane improvements,” Kluver said. “It was pretty cool to watch.”

Before training with Kluver, Johnson’s pro agility time was 4.75 seconds and his 40 was 4.70.

After his training, Johnson’s pro agility time dropped by half a second to 4.25 and his 40 improved to 4.65.

“I loved working out with him,” Johnson said. “He’s a really great guy and I definitely got something out of it.”

College coaches took note, too. Johnson owns scholarship offers from Grand View, Graceland, South Dakota School of Mines, Wayne State, Missouri Western State, and Minnesota State Mankato.

That list might grow as more coaches see his progression at linebacker, given it’s his first season playing the position on varsity.

In the meantime, though, Johnson serves as his own recruiter.

“Before COVID, I really didn’t know much about recruiting,” he said. “Whenever I worked out, I’d get a video, get numbers, and post them to Twitter and tag coaches, talk to coaches as much as I could. A lot of these coaches haven’t seen me at linebacker, so I’d have to (share) a lot of my own stuff and hope they see it.”

Johnson picked Kluver’s brain on recruiting while they worked out over the summer. It was then that the two struck a common ground.

Kluver was in a similar position in high school, and he reminded Johnson to trust the recruiting process.

“His hunger, his work ethic, his drive, and his will to go and outwork somebody – kind of live that life that I lived at Iowa where you walk on and you have to go and give 200% at everything you do – that’s something that Tyler has specifically that I think translates to every level,” Kluver said.

Adam Hensley is a freelance journalist who writes our sports notebooks for the Ankeny Press Citizen, the Altoona Press Herald, and the Indianola Record Herald. For additional content, you can follow him on Twitter @A_Hens83.

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