Like father, like son.

In 1995, Clester Johnson Sr. -- a big, talented athlete -- was the leading receiver on the Nebraska Cornhuskers team that cruised to a 12-0 record and a consensus national title. He played under Tom Osborne, a disciplinarian with a proven record of success. The linebackers coach was a relatively anonymous former Husker defensive back named Craig Bohl.

Nearly two decades later, only the location has changed. Clester Johnson Jr., another athletic wideout, plans to join a program built in Osborne's mold and steered by -- you guessed it -- Bohl.

Johnson Jr., who usually goes by C.J., became Wyoming's second verbal commit of the 2015 signing class.

"Yes I will officially be committing to the university of Wyoming," Johnson Jr. tweeted Thursday morning.

The 6-foot-2, 181-pound receiver had 1,364 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior at Bellevue West High School in 2013. Rivals ranks him as a three-star recruit and the No. 2 overall prospect in the state of Nebraska.

Johnson Jr. -- who also had offers from the likes of Ohio, Western Michigan and North Dakota State -- visited Wyoming on April 19 for the team's spring game. And in Laramie, Clester Johnson Sr. reunited with an old friend and colleague.

"When you win a national championship, and that is still considered one of the best if not the best college football team in history, that naturally bonds you," Johnson Sr. said. "Every time I see him, it’s almost like it was yesterday. That’s kind of how it felt when I saw coach Bohl.”

Johnson Sr. was enveloped with an overwhelming feeling of deja vu. The program was run exactly like Osborne's was in Nebraska, where less-heralded players were developed into champions. The attitude, work ethic and underdog mentality were all there.

By the time they left campus, Johnson Sr. had seen enough. But in the end, it wasn't his decision.

“To be honest with you, when I left Wyoming with C.J. the first time, I was already convinced in my mind," Johnson Sr. said. "I’m like, ‘Gosh, that’s really the place for him!’ But I know he had to go look at some of these other schools that were expressing interest to him.

"Kids today, that’s what they see on TV all the time. They see these programs that are ready-made and get all the press. It’s just natural to want to see what it could be like. But the reality is, ‘Listen, everybody in America is trying to go to that place. They have the pick of the litter.’”

Johnson Jr. attended camps at Nebraska and Wisconsin, but his mind continued to drift back to Laramie.

“Oh man, they were just singing praises ever since [their visit]," Bellevue West head football coach Michael Huffman said. "Even with Nebraska and Wisconsin [camps], every time you talked to both Senior and Junior, they’d always bring up Wyoming.”

Though Johnson Jr.'s junior season was prolific, Huffman is convinced that the best is yet to come. Until this season, the pass-catcher with the long, smooth strides thought of himself primarily as a basketball player. He rarely lifted weights and didn't participate in any training during the offseason.

But a few games into the 2013 campaign, all of that changed.

“Coach, I honestly didn’t know I was going to be this good," Johnson Jr. told Huffman after a particularly impressive performance. "This is what I want to do.”

Johnson Jr. got to work, dedicating himself to the game and the weight room. Whereas football was once a hobby, it now became a driving force.

"He would come to the weight room a little bit. But it was like how most high school basketball kids are," Huffman said. "They come in, look at the weights, become really good spotters, and every once in a while they’ll do a set. That’s how he was.”

Not anymore. Last spring, Johnson Jr. passed on AAU basketball and track and field in favor of weight lifting. He trained four days a week and gained 15 pounds.

While he's hovering around 185 pounds now, Huffman expects Johnson Jr. to reach 210-215 pounds with the discipline of a Division I workout regimen.

Physically and mentally, Johnson Jr.'s ceiling is higher than most. Huffman calls him "the humblest and nicest stud I've ever been around," with a quiet confidence and steady grades.

As for football, the ability to catch, dodge and glide toward daylight is already in his blood.

“I think they’re getting a gem, I’ll tell you that,” Huffman said.

While Clester Johnson Sr. is all smiles now, a perfect storm lingers threateningly in the distance. In 2016, Wyoming is scheduled to play Nebraska at Memorial Stadium.

In the town where he claimed a national title, who will Johnson Sr. root for: His alma mater or his son?

“I tell you what, I will have my cowboy hat and boots on," Johnson Sr. said with a big laugh. "Hat, boots, shirt -- whatever it is, I have to wear it. I’ll have my flannel. I’ll be sitting in that section over there, cheering for my team.

"I always tell everybody, of course I’m always going to be a Husker fan. I bleed red. But this is my child, and I’m definitely going to be rooting for him.”

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Reach reporter Mike Vorel at Mike.Vorel@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeVorel.


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