College football recruiting impacts high school athletes in various ways. Some enjoy the game, relishing the attention from coaches and fans alike. They embrace social media as a platform to further their fame and financial wherewithal. Publically, they show little concern for the gravity of choosing where to spend the first chapter of their adult lives.
Others dislike the process. They could do without the constant barrage of messages and the pressure that comes with making the life-changing decision of which university to call home. Star QB Javance Tupouata-Johnson is decidedly in the latter camp.
“It feels good (to sign with SDSU),” Tupouata-Johnson said on an upcoming episode of The SDSU Football Podcast. “I’m grateful for the recruiting process, obviously, but just happy to get it over with. All that stress left my parents and I’s shoulders. It was good.”
“There’s a lot of great schools out there in the country, a lot of great coaches. Obviously, you have to build a relationship with these coaches and then see the school and see yourself in the school. That was the most stressful part about it.”
Even with the high school season on pause in the state of California, Tupouata-Johnson burst onto the national recruiting scene in August 2020 with offers from San Jose State and Arizona State. Following the abbreviated 2020 season held in the Spring of 2021, the Golden State signal caller left California to attend camps in the summer. He was so impressive at events held at Florida State and the University of Oregon he flew home with offers from the Seminoles and Ducks in successive months.
What these programs saw, along with BYU, Toledo, Pitt, Tulane, Nevada, and SDSU, is elite arm strength packaged with accuracy and an uncanny feel for throwing with the proper tempo. His hand cannon allows him to make throws most can’t. Combined with terrific mobility for a 6’4 205 lbs athlete, he puts tremendous pressure on defenses. He forces the opposition to cover receivers longer and in areas on the field, usually out of range for most QBs.
“I have a strong arm,” Tupouata-Johnson said, describing his game. “I can make plays happen even if nothing’s open. I can scramble. Do stuff with my feet that other people can’t do. I feel like I’m a student of the game. This past season, I elevated my knowledge of football. (Chaminade) Coach (David) Machuca helped me get up there. When I get to college, it will even be better. I feel I can bring all those things to the table.”
Despite his status as a national recruit, there was a lingering question: could he play winning football? Starting his sophomore and junior season for Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, CA, he won only four games. Transferring fifteen miles away to league rival Chaminade High in 2022, he answered that question definitively.
The Eagles opened the season 8-0. Though he missed nearly two games due to injury, Tupouata-Johnson was sensational during the stretch. He threw for 1,162 yards and 12 touchdowns on only 103 passing attempts while adding 416 yards on the ground and seven scores on just 37 rushes. Behind Tupouata-Johnson, the Eagles soared in the rankings, rising to number eight in California.
Over the final two games of the regular season, Chaminade fell nearly as quick as they rose. Losses to league rivals Sierra Canyon and Serra threatened to derail a magical season as the Eagles headed into the Southern Section Division 2 playoffs. Life presented the perfect opportunity for growth. Winning is learned, and adversity is the best teacher.
“I feel like it helps a lot knowing that I’m able to bounce back,” Tupouata-Johnson said. “If I’m at my peak, I don’t just go down. I can recover. Just being able to be a leader in those types of situations. I think it means a lot, especially with being a leader, for sure. Just trying to pick up my teammates because if I am down, nobody else is going to be up.”
In the opening round of the playoffs against the San Clemente Tritons, Chaminade, up 17-7 with under four minutes to play, opened the door for its opponent. A late score followed by an Eagles’ fumble set up a field goal that sailed through the uprights as regulation expired, allowing San Clemente to force overtime.
After trading FGs in the first extra period, Chaminade had the ball at the 14-yard line. With an empty backfield and five receivers spread out, Tupouata-Johnson dropped back and, with his primary throwing option covered, exploded up the middle. As he came through the line, he demonstratively planted his left foot like current Aztec coach Donnel Pumphrey did throughout his career, cut to his right, and beat three defenders for what would be the game-winning score.
San Clemente scored on its subsequent possession. Initially playing for the tie, the Tritons changed their mind after a Chaminade penalty on the extra point attempt. It set up a play both teams will remember for the rest of their lives.
“(San Clemente) was on the one-yard line or even the half-yard line,” Tupouata-Johnson explained. “They ran the ball good all game, so shout out to them. They ran it. Our guys were just in the right spot, so we go the stop and won by one. That was a crazy game.”
Tupouata-Johnson and Chaminade would follow that victory with another the next week before losing in overtime in the semifinals. How Tupouata-Johnson responded will serve him well during his time at SDSU.
Journey to the Mesa
Aztec fans looking for signs of the program’s improving recruiting prowess should look no further than Tupouata-Johnson. It is remarkable he will be suiting up for the Red and Black. Marcus Mariota is his favorite athlete. Mariota starred for the Oregon Ducks, who offered before the Aztecs. Though he has a religious connection to the school, he also spurned an offer from BYU.
SDSU offered this past March. Tupouata-Johnson committed three months later on a visit in June. Safety Isaiah McElvane was his host, and the players on the team welcomed him with open arms. He even hit it off with the other high schoolers he visited with. The group remained in contact all year.
Tupouata-Johnson knew heading to San Diego that, SDSU was his likely destination. Rather than commit over the phone, he wanted to make it official in person with his family present.
His recruitment complete and Chaminade winning, everything was moving as planned until SDSU fired Jeff Hecklinski, Tupouata-Johnson’s lead recruiter, midseason. The perfect scenario disappeared, but rather than decommit immediately, he waited to see what would happen next at SDSU.
According to a source, as Hecklinski cleaned out his office, wanting to leave his players in the best hands, he was the first to suggest reaching out to Ryan Lindley. One of Lindley’s first tasks as SDSU’s QB coach was reaching out to Tupouata-Johnson.
“He’s great. I love that guy,” Tupouata-Johnson said when asked about Lindley. “I trust him with everything, especially with what he did with Moose, Jalen Mayden. With the short amount of time that he had, (Mayden) looked great. He made (Mayden) look good on the field. He doesn’t take credit for anything. He’s actually about the players. I love our relationship. My parents love him.”
Preparing for 2024
With Mayden returning to lead the Aztecs in 2023, it sets up an ideal situation for the young signal caller to come in and get acclimated to the college game. A year of seasoning, weight training, and adjusting to the speed of the football at the DI level will serve him well.
His greatest strengths can also be his weakness. Off his back foot, he is able to throw faster and further than most with their feet properly planted. At times, this leads to lazy mechanics. He is able to extend plays with his feet at an elite level, but due in part to this skill, he holds onto the ball too long, missing the easy completions.
Tupouata-Johnson has been the best athlete on every field he has ever played on. At the next level, he will not be able to depend on his physical abilities alone to succeed. On a high school gridiron, elite athleticism and arm strength can take a QB far. In college, they take a secondary role, with football IQ, timing, film study, and ball security moving to the forefront.
SDSU will be looking for a new signal caller in 2024. A year from now, Tupouata-Johnson will be in the midst of a heated competition to take the reins of the Aztecs’ offense. Arriving this summer, he will start his first full offseason with the program next year. He is projected to compete against Liu Aumavae and Kyle Crum, who will be in their third offseason at SDSU.
“I can’t wait,” Tupouta-Johnson explained about joining the Aztecs’ QB room. “Even though everyone is competing, I know there are always great spirits (in the room). Coach Lindley’s always telling me they’re always joking and stuff. And even before, when coach Heck was the coach, he would tell me that all the quarterbacks would come and sit in his room and talk even if there was no meeting or anything required. I can’t wait. This past quarterback room I was in high school was great, communicating with them, just helping each other out. I can’t wait. It’s going to be great. I already know.”
In the meantime, he will have a year to learn under Mayden, the team’s 2022 MVP, and DJ Ralph, the Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year. Tupouata-Johnson sees a lot of similarities between his and Mayden’s games. Watching how Mayden prepares and competes for a year will be an invaluable learning experience.
According to 247 Sports, Tupouata-Johnson is the highest-rated QB and 16th-best prospect overall to ever commit to SDSU. He has carried those lofty expectations with him throughout high school, and there is every reason to believe he will reach them in his college career.