While awaiting PIAA eligibility hearing, West Mifflin’s Nahki Johnson giving 100 percent effort
By: Chris Harlan
Thursday, July 11, 2019 | 6:56 PM
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West Mifflin’s season opener is only six weeks away, and Nahki Johnson doesn’t know whether he’ll play that night — or any night this season.
The star junior was declared ineligible by the WPIAL in June, a decision his school has since appealed to the PIAA. He’ll have his request heard sometime in the next few weeks, but until then he’s focus only on things he can control.
“It’s tough, I’m not going to lie,” said Johnson, who transferred in December from Steel Valley. “But I’m still working as if I was 100 percent sure I was going to play. I always pray on it, hoping everything will go good.”
If declared eligible, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound defensive end will rank among the top talents in the WPIAL. He drew offers from Penn State, West Virginia, Michigan, Mississippi State and others before committing to Pitt.
He continues to work out with his teammates daily in hopes the PIAA will overturn the WPIAL.
“He shows up at the weight room every day and works hard,” West Mifflin coach Rod Steele said. “I’m sure it’s something that weighs on his mind, but I don’t think it’s distracted him from continuing to do what he has to do.”
At the very least, Johnson hopes his efforts might motivate his teammates: “If I work hard, then my team is looking at me like: ‘This guy doesn’t even know if he’s playing this season, but he’s still going 100 percent every rep,’ ” Johnson said.
He earned first-team all-conference honors as a sophomore at guard, an offensive position he’ll play again this year. But he’s known most as a hand-on-the-ground defensive end that can beat a tackle around the end with his speed.
The edge rusher is deceptively quick.
“A lot of tackles who I go up against tell me I shouldn’t be playing defensive end, I should be a wide receiver,” Johnson said. “I just laugh.”
However, he’s also worked to strengthen his dip-and-rip and other techniques designed to beat linemen inside. Those are moves he learned as a freshman facing lineman three years older than him. Now that he’s bigger, he has multiple ways to reach the backfield.
“Being littler than everybody, that really helped me because I couldn’t rely on my strength all the time,” Johnson said. “Most of the time I couldn’t just bull-rush somebody.”
Johnson likes to learn, and picked Pitt in part because he believed defensive line coach Charlie Partridge could teach him the most. Recruiting sites project Johnson as an outside linebacker, but he prefers defensive end.
“I feel like he’s going to give me the best shot at the NFL out of everybody else,” said Johnson, adding that Pitt was a place he felt comfortable. “When I go to Pitt, I feel like I’m at home. All the coaches know me and keep up with me. I feel like they know me on a personal level.”
Johnson hadn’t intended to commit anywhere until next summer, but decided there was no reason to wait.
“Why not be the first one in my (2021) class?” he said. “Maybe that’ll mean something more special to Pitt.”
— Nahki Johnson (@NahkiJohnson) June 25, 2019
For now he’s hoping his future coaches can see him play this fall.
The WPIAL in a split vote ruled Johnson ineligible because he transferred to West Mifflin shortly before Steele accepted the coaching job. Steel Valley contested the transfer as athletically motivated.
Johnson attended an eligibility hearing June 21 in Green Tree.
“Honestly, I was shocked,” Johnson said, “because I thought it was going to go in my favor. I was just in shock, me and my mom. We all felt that it went really well, but that’s something I can’t control.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .
Tags: West Mifflin