Dominique Johnson’s journey to reach the NFL officially came to an end Wednesday morning, when the Minnesota Vikings announced the graduated Cal Poly receiver among 14 undrafted free-agent signees.
During an ordinary offseason, players not selected in late April would’ve already been snapped up immediately after the seven rounds came to a close, but the league’s recent lockout — its first work stoppage since 1987 — left Johnson indefinitely in limbo for months.
“It hit me today, when I was talking to my position coach,” Johnson said by telephone a day after abruptly catching a flight to the Upper Midwest. “He said to me, ‘You’re here.’“But I know this is just the beginning,” Johnson said. “This is where it really starts, now.”
Johnson said he signed for a little more than the standard minimum undrafted rookie contract, a three-year package worth more than $1 million.
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More than once, he called the past few days “hectic,” and things obviously aren’t going to slow down in days to come, as organizations try to cram what would usually be months of playbook-studying, OTAs and mini-camps into a matter of weeks.
He’ll report to Mankato, Minn. on Sunday for training camp, with the club’s first practice scheduled for Monday.
Coming out of Valley View High in Moreno Valley five years ago, Johnson was a highly rated recruit and signed with UCLA. After redshirting, he produced two solid seasons in Pasadena, and will likely be remembered for years to come by Bruins fans for his spectacular one-handed touchdown catch that came as he tip-toed along the sideline against USC in 2007.
Looking for a fresh start after his sophomore year, he transferred, and had two all-Great West Conference seasons in San Luis Obispo, during which he totaled 90 catches for 1,375 yards and 10 TDs as the primary downfield threat out of a run-heavy triple-option offense.
In late March, the Vikings were among a few teams in attendance at Johnson’s private workout held at his high school alma mater, just days before the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder clocked a 4.60-second 40-yard dash time at Cal Poly’s ensuing pro day.
The Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions also called Johnson’s agent after the labor impasse was lifted, but by then, it was too late.
“They were one team that had shown interest since Day 1,” Johnson said of the Vikings. “They were our No. 1 option the whole time.”
An extra spot on Minnesota’s depth chart may have opened Wednesday when the team lost fifth-year receiver Sidney Rice to the Seattle Seahawks thanks to a reported five-year, $41 million move.
Percy Harvin was the Vikings’ leading receiver a year ago with 71 catches for 868 yards and five TDs. After that, former Fresno State standout Bernard Berrian was next in line among the wideouts, with 28 catches for 252 yards.
Only one other receiver was among the Vikings’ more-than-a-dozen undrafted pickups: Andre Holmes, a 6-foot-5 Division II All-American honorable mention with an accomplished track background from Hillsdale College in Michigan.
The Vikings also made headlines later in the day by reportedly agreeing to trade two sixth-round picks to the Washington Redskins for the rights to high-priced quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Johnson said possibly running routes for the former Philadelphia Eagles perennial Pro Bowler would be an honor.
“Definitely, it’s always good to have a veteran player like Donovan McNabb around,” Johnson said. “It would be awesome catching passes from a guy I’ve been watching on TV my whole life.”
Three other former Cal Poly players are currently on NFL rosters: Chris Gocong (a regular starter at linebacker for the Browns), Ramses Barden (a backup receiver for the New York Giants) and Mark Restelli (a strong safety prospect for the Miami Dolphins).
Former Mustangs defensive back Courtney Brown, who was with Barden on the Giants’ roster a year ago, is currently an unrestricted free agent.