‘Hometown hero’ Nahki Johnson adds agility to Pitt defense


Courtesy of Nahki Johnson

Nahki Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound weak-side defensive end, committed to the Panthers last June.

By Camryn Simons, Staff Writer

A vast array of western Pennsylvania athletes have chosen to play college football at Pitt over the long and prestigious history of the program, from current star and redshirt senior defensive back Paris Ford to seasoned NFL veterans such as the Steelers’ James Conner and retired players such as Hall of Famer Dan Marino.

Committing in June of last year, Nahki Johnson adds his name to the long lineage of local prospects to play at Pitt. As one of the highest-rated recruits in Pitt’s 2021 class, Johnson looks to add agility to the defensive line.

Rivals.com rates Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound weak-side defensive end, a four-star prospect. He’s ranked as the seventh-best player in the state of Pennsylvania, sixth in the weak-side defensive end position and No. 158 nationally.

“[He’s] fast-twitched and gets off the line in a blur,” Brian Dohn, a 247Sports scout, wrote. “Hard to block at [the] high school level because of burst and refined technique.”

Johnson caught the attention of a variety of coaches for his speed and agility on the defensive line. His speed often proves unanswerable in games, with his ability to get inside quickly and chase down the ball carrier making him a dominating force at the high school level. Because of his speed, many colleges wanted him to move to a skill position.

“Everybody talks about my speed. They say that I have speed like a wide receiver and that I shouldn’t even be playing this position,” Johnson said. “Pitt was one of the only schools that wanted me to be on the defensive line … they’re the only school that knows my true position and my potential at the position.”

He received offers from in-state programs at Penn State and Temple, as well as Power Five out-of-state programs such as West Virginia, Michigan and Virginia Tech in addition to the Panthers. Ultimately, Johnson chose to stay close to home in Pittsburgh.

Growing up, Johnson said he had always been a huge fan and supporter of Pittsburgh’s teams and athletes. He has a lot of love for the City in general — especially the variety of great views that it has to offer.

“One thing I like about the City is how beautiful it is at night,” Johnson said. “There’s a place on the South Side called the Color Park where you get a really good view of the City.”

With his speed and physicality, Johnson has the promise for an impactful college career in his hometown city. For now, he’s focused on his senior year with West Mifflin, with his eyes set on bringing home wins to close out the year.

But on the other side of 2020 are hopes for a successful college career at Pitt. He said a strong relationship with Pitt’s coaches throughout his recruitment helped him make the decision. They gave him confidence in his ability to reach the NFL.

“I’ve been talking to the coaches since my freshman year. I knew all of them and I built a relationship with all of the coaches at Pitt,” Johnson said. “I really do feel like Coach Partridge, the defensive line coach, is one of the best coaches out there for me … I feel like he can help me get to the next level.”

But Johnson isn’t the only local star locked in to play for Pitt. With the announcement of his commitment last month, Elliot Donald will join Johnson on the defensive line as part of the same recruiting class.

Donald, cousin of former Pitt defensive tackle and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, is a four-star prospect at the strong-side defensive end position.

Johnson and Elliot Donald grew up together. Throughout their recruitment process, they communicated frequently about potentially playing together in their hometown.

“We talk to each other all the time,” Johnson said. “When I committed, I was hopping on his back telling him that he should come here and come to the City with us. I’m glad he’s coming to Pitt.”