Nicknames boost fame, not game

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Randy Johnson (Miami/Norland) has answered to a nickname ever since he can remember.

Ron Thompson (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) just picked up a nickname at this weekend's ESPN RISE Champion Gridiron Kings event.

It's the nature of the nickname game. Somebody has to throw one out there. If other people pick it up, it sticks.

Nicknames won't make or break a prospect, but they certainly can help bring his name into the football consciousness. How well would we remember William Perry if he hadn't been dubbed "The Fridge?" Raghib Ismail if he hadn't been so aptly tagged "Rocket?"

Johnson, a Miami commitment and member of the ESPNU 150, answers to "Duke." Pretty much everyone calls him that. There's not a great story behind the name, rather just a great man.

"That was my great granddad's name," Johnson said. "My mom decided to call me Duke. Randy is my dad's name and I am Randy Jr. Duke stuck to me since then, and I am very proud to have the nickname. I never really knew him because he died when I was around 3."

The name is fitting for Johnson because on the gridiron is where he holds court. Johnson, 5-foot-9 and 174 pounds, is one of the most electrifying recruits in the class of 2012.

Thompson, a 6-4, 220-pound tight end, is one of the biggest players here at the Gridiron Kings. He figures his new nickname, "Sugar Bear," is due, at least in part, to his size.

"It just started with a few of the guys here," Thompson said after pool play on Saturday. "It's all fun and games. I guess because I'm big and I can move, or something like that.

"It doesn't bother me. I'm just gonna go out and perform."

Thompson brings up a good point. No nickname is going anywhere without a player's actual play to back it up.

"I am very excited about this weekend," Johnson said. "I want to show everybody what I can do. For me, it's a great opportunity."

Johnson will be back at these same facilities in January, where he will play in the Under Armour All-America Game. He picked that game so his family could enjoy it with him.

"Oh man, I am very excited about that one," Johnson said. "At first I wanted to play in the Army game [in San Antonio]. But it was just too far from home for my family. My family is such a big part of my life and at my side in everything I do. They have to be there."

The task at hand for Johnson and his Southeast teammates is to defend their Gridiron Kings title.

"There's some pressure," Johnson said. "But it's not bad pressure. We have to carry the torch for the next year. We have to play hard and get the win and keep the streak going. I know a lot of kids are from Florida and we are competitive and don't like to lose."

Johnson said he's getting to know new coach Al Golden and his staff in Coral Gables, and he's eager to find his niche.

"Before I left I went out there and talked to them a little bit about life stuff," Johnson said. "I saw some players and watched them work. The plan is to get me in there early because I am graduating early. Then they will work me in."

Thompson hasn't reached a decision on the next level just yet.

"Michigan, Maryland and Syracuse are my top three right now," said Thompson, who is on the Midwest team with 2013 QB prospect and Michigan commitment Shane Morris. The two also have played together on the same travel 7-on-7 team. "Shane is my man. I love to play with him. He throws a nice ball.

"Oh yeah, he's recruiting me. He keeps calling me stupid [for not committing to Michigan]. He's doing his job, though."

Be careful, Shane. You don't want to make a bear angry, even if he's a "Sugar Bear."

Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at jamienewbergbw@yahoo.com.