UTAH UTES

A Mother’s Perspective: How Devin Lloyd Went From An Unknown Talent To Top NFL Draft Pick

Apr 28, 2022, 10:58 AM | Updated: 11:21 am
Devin Lloyd - Utah Utes...
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)

SALT LAKE CITY- It is crazy to look back and realize the world may never have known about linebacker Devin Lloyd. Lloyd has literally gone from an unknown recruit that only Utah wanted, to one of the hottest commodities in the 2022 NFL Draft. Just hours away from Lloyd’s life changing forever, his mother, Ronyta Johnson reflects on how her son became a top prospect.

Three Stars? No Problem.

Utah is notorious for scouting and projecting potential.  Alex Smith, Eric Weddle, Sean Smith, and Julian Blackmon are all examples of low-star guys the Utes saw a little something extra in when no other school did. They all have also made it to the NFL. Soon, Lloyd’s name will be added to that list.

In high school Lloyd was a dual-athlete dabbling in basketball and football. By Lloyd’s junior year in high school his coaches approached him and told him he needed to decide between the two sports. Lloyd ultimately picked football, and received a scholarship to UNLV.  Ironically though, it was Lloyd’s basketball abilities that caught tight end coach Freddie Whittingham’s attention leading Lloyd to his best offer with the Utes.

“I wasn’t really involved with the recruiting process with Utah,” Johnson said. “I was more involved with the UNLV process. I know his dad did most of the Utah. I did speak with coach Whitt’s brother and asked him how they found Devin. He told me he saw Devin playing basketball. ‘I saw how he maneuvered. I heard he played football, but I was looking at how he moved around the court ducking and dodging.’ Basketball helped him get a football scholarship. How funny is that?”

Trust The Process

Lloyd arrived on the Utah campus as a safety/wide receiver/punter. Utah thought he projected more as a linebacker so he switched positions. Johnson recalls not totally understanding the move, but just being happy her son was in college getting his degree.

“Devin was a safety, he was a punter, and he was a receiver,” Johnson said. “Now he was going to be a linebacker. I thought that was going to be interesting. I always told Devin that he could do anything he put his mind to. I had no doubt that if this was what he wanted to do, he was going to be successful. Would that success equal to going to the next level? Really didn’t get that till sophomore year. That’s when Devin was very serious about going to the NFL.”

Lloyd’s last season with Utah is where everything really came together and Johnson says she fully understood what Utah and the coaching staff had done for her son. Now Johnson and her family are eternally grateful for the care and growth that was bestowed upon Lloyd.

“I have to admit and be honest,” Johnson said. “I didn’t understand coach Whitt the first couple of years. I didn’t understand why they kept putting Devin in the middle when he’s more beneficial on the edge. Now I understand. Coach Swan, and even coach Shah and coach Whitt have really helped him a lot. I don’t think I really knew that until this last year. How much they molded him and took care of him.”

Leaders Instill In Their People A Hope For Success

2020 and 2021 were difficult years for everybody and Lloyd was no exception. Johnson says the political and social unrest coupled with the pandemic were really hard on her son, but he also took the time to seize the moment and level up as a leader.

“He was the captain, but he really stepped up as the leader at that time,” Johnson said. “Even during the Black Lives Matter movement, we talked a lot during that time when he was doing his speeches.”

Unfortunately, Lloyd would find himself in two more unthinkable situations where his leadership would be tested. The deaths of teammates Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe had a profound affect on Lloyd according to his mother. Johnson says Lloyd was particularly concerned about how the team would perceive him. Utah was facing very serious moments, but Lloyd was worried about coming across too unapproachable.

“That year put things into perspective,” Johnson said. “I can tell you, during the year they weren’t able to play, and the loss of Jordan really matured Devin really fast. He had a rough time through there. I know a lot of the kids did. He didn’t know what to say to them- to the team. On one hand he felt like he was too serious, and it was a serious matter. He didn’t want them to hear his footsteps and worry about ‘Devin’s here’. He wanted to be a good teammate and help everyone out without being scared of him.”

Like A Phoenix From The Ashes

They say tough times don’t last, but tough people do. While it was difficult, the Utes did manage to navigate past their grief to a historic season and leading the charge was Lloyd. Johnson recalls suggesting Lloyd make fun of himself a little to ease the tension in the room and make him a little less intimidating when his team needed him most.

“It helped, it helped loosen the team up and understand that Devin is a human,” Johnson said. “He got past that. I think after that they were good, but then they lost Aaron. It was yet another obstacle. I don’t know that I can say he was better prepared, but he had already had that experience. It didn’t lessen the pain, but his mind was better able to handle the situation and take care of the guys in the locker room.”

Thinking back on the 2021 football season and the position it put Lloyd in is still an overwhelming thought for Johnson. Johnson remembers not being completely sold when Lloyd told her he was coming back for his senior year, but ending up amazed when everything panned out.

“When Devin decided to come back and not enter the Draft last year I asked him if he was sure,” Johnson said. “If things don’t work out he’s still probably second or third round. Devin said he was sure. When they beat Oregon 38-10 I was praying and I realized he was going to do it. Devin and those three guys came back and they were going to do it. They were going to win the Pac-12. I felt it. I knew it. I broke down. I was in tears. I didn’t have that same feeling for the Rose Bowl, but I was glad they got there.”

Small Miracles, Big Blessings

Being with her son as a top linebacker prospect and his coaches who saw his potential on Draft night in Las Vegas is still a surreal thought. Especially when Johnson looks back on the metamorphosis Lloyd went through to get there.

“For those coaches to change someone from a safety/wide receiver/punter into a linebacker is nothing short of a miracle,” Johnson said. “It really is. Maybe safety and linebacker kind of- it’s why he can drop back and catch a pass, but that’s still a whole different world. I still don’t know how they did it and how they made him as successful as he is. I don’t think Devin would have put that much effort into it if he hadn’t received the encouragement and support from the coaches.”

“These other kids have been playing linebacker for years,” Johnson continued. “Devin’s been a linebacker for what? Maybe two years? I don’t know how many coaches can do that. I don’t know that I’ve heard of any coaches who can change a wide receiver into a linebacker. It’s impossible to do in a short period of time.”

Once A Ute, Always A Ute

No matter where Lloyd ends up, one thing is for sure. Lloyd and Johnson are Utes for life and Johnson isn’t shy with her praise of the school and program.

“That university is the best thing for academics, athletics-whatever you are there for,” Johnson said. “It’s just a family environment and that’s what I believe a child needs when they are coming out of high school and going to a different city. They need to still feel like they are a part of a family when their family is not right there.”

“I told coach Whittingham and I told Mark, the Athletic Director, that if someone came to me today and said, ‘how did you like the University of Utah?’ I wouldn’t hesitate to say that they need to get their child in that school,” Johnson continued. “It was absolutely the best experience that as a student, as a parent you can ask for.”

Raising The Profile

The only frustration Johnson has, and it’s to no fault of Utah’s, is the lack of national respect the Utes get along with the Pac-12 in general. Johnson and Lloyd hope the attention his draft process brings will be another helpful step in growing Utah’s national profile. They don’t want it to be a national surprise anymore that Utah can compete and put top prospects in the league.

“One of the things Devin and I hope is that when he comes out of here, and we hope in the first round that maybe eyes will be opened and they will start looking at the University of Utah and other teams in the Pac-12 besides USC and Oregon,” Johnson said. “If they had given as much media time to the Pac-12 as they did the other conferences, this wouldn’t be a surprise to them.”

 

 

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A Mother’s Perspective: How Devin Lloyd Went From An Unknown Talent To Top NFL Draft Pick