ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — If Brandon Johnson isn’t a splitting image of his dad. It took a minute to put the two together.
Charles Johnson was a terrific catcher who was twice a first-round Major League Baseball draft pick – first out of high school in 1989 by the Montreal Expos and then out of college in 1992 by the Florida (now Miami) Marlins – and quickly reached the big leagues as a well-hyped phenom.
No one had a stronger arm than Charles Johnson and few were better behind the plate, as he caught three no-hitters over his career and massaged the Marlins’ pitching staff to the 1997 World Series title.
He had pop at the plate, too, as Charles Johnson clobbered 31 homers in 2000 and 20 for the Colorado Rockies in 2003.
His son Brandon is wearing No. 89 for the Broncos as an undrafted receiver from Tennessee and Central Florida.
How did Brandon Johnson wind up a football player when his dad was a Gold Glover as the National League’s best defensive catcher four straight seasons from 1995 to 1999?
"I don’t know. Being in Florida, a lot of times the main sports you play are mainly football, a lot of basketball," Brandon Johnson said in an interview Thursday with 9NEWS. "I really thought baseball was boring."
Boring? Did he tell his dad he thought baseball was boring?
"I told him," Brandon said. "He never made me play. I never played before."
Brandon was 5 and 6 years old when his dad played his two seasons with Coors Field as his home ballpark. Brandon Johnson’s familiarity with the area is one reason why he signed with the Broncos as an undrafted rookie free agent this spring.
"We used to come here well after he stopped playing for the Rockies," Johnson said. "Always loved Denver. It just seemed like a great place to be with amazing veterans and it’s a great receiver room and obviously Russell Wilson being part of the team. Just the way things lined up, it seemed like perfect fit."
Yes, Russell Wilson. Speaking of former Rockies.
"Russell could probably go out there right now and do his thing (in baseball)," Johnson said.
Having just turned 24, Johnson is two years older than Broncos’ cornerback Pat Surtain II, who went to the same American Heritage High School in south Florida.
"I actually knew Brandon since I was like 8, 9 years old," Surtain said. "It’s crazy how he ended up here. Crazy how the world circles around."
Like Johnson, Surtain is the son of a professional athlete. Pat Surtain was a real good cornerback for the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs. Surtain II and Johnson haven’t had a serious conversation about their bond at having once-famous sports dads, but they realize they did not have common upbringings.
"It’s definitely different," Surtain said of being a star player’s kid. "You get to see things and get an experience that most kids don’t. So you’ve got to be grateful for it and you also have to understand you have to bring that positivity back to those who didn’t get those opportunities or experiences."
Johnson said he fully understands his dad’s legacy.
"Most definitely. Growing up, I always knew his accolades and things like that but we’re in a time now where a lot of his clips are starting to come back out," Brandon said. "I’m starting to see a lot more clips that I may not have remembered from way back when so it’s been amazing to watch. I just love watching his film."
No one was a better defensive catcher.
"Not from what I see," Brandon said. "That’s what I think, too."
It won’t be easy for Johnson to make the Broncos’ 53-man roster, not with the receiver room stacked with the likes of Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, Tyrie Cleveland, Kendall Hinton and drafted rookie Montrell Washington. But Johnson is going to play it out and see what happens. The practice squad is a realistic goal, not that he’s going to settle for that three days into training camp.
"It’s been awesome," Johnson said of his training camp experience. "I can’t complain, man. I’m living my dream right now. I can’t complain about nothing. It’s a blessing."
After playing four seasons at the University of Tennessee, where his best season was as a sophomore when he led the Vols with 37 catches for 482 yards, Johnson transferred as a graduate to Central Florida last year, where he became a touchdown machine. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound receiver had 38 catches in 12 games for Central Florida last year with 11 going for touchdowns.
"He’s a smooth route runner," Surtain said of Johnson. "He’s got great hands, instincts, high IQ. He’s going to do everything that the offense needs him to do. He’s just a great all-around player."
Brandon Johnson has always had dad’s support – "Super, super supportive. I couldn’t have asked for any more support from him." -- and is still coaching baseball for various programs in the south Florida area.
Somehow, the genes transferred, even if they got crossed along the way – then again, isn’t a receiver aligned with being a catcher?
"Maybe it runs in the blood, the hand-eye coordination, catching the ball," Johnson said. "I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you. But somehow it happened and it’s all good now."
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