June 08, 2023


Relationship ‘clicks’ for Joliet Catholic’s Dillan Johnson, Northwestern

Junior ‘stoked’ to be joining Wildcats

Joliet Catholic’s Dillan Johnson is one of 4 starting defensive linemen to return for the Hilltoppers. Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Joliet.

Dillan Johnson grew up with a plan for how he would play college football one day.

Johnson, a Joliet Catholic junior, didn’t spend time dreaming or focusing on playing college football. Instead, he always believed he could do it by working hard and focusing on what he needed to get done. If it worked, it worked, if it didn’t, it didn’t.

His plan came to fruition Friday when he committed to Northwestern. Johnson announced his decision Monday.

“I’m stoked to go to Northwestern,” Johnson said. “The more and more I think about it, the more I want to hurry up and graduate high school. But of course I’ve got one more year, I can’t think about it too much, but I’m excited.”

247Sports and Rivals rank the 6-foot-2, 285-pound defensive tackle as a three-star prospect, Rivals listing him as the 19th-best prospect in the state, while 247Sports has him 20th. Johnson held Power Five offers from Northwestern, Wisconsin, Iowa State, Missouri, California and Kansas State as well as other Division I schools such as Miami (Ohio), Bowling Green and Western Kentucky.

Northwestern, Wisconsin, Iowa State and Missouri ranked near the top for Johnson heading into his Friday visit at Northwestern, but once he returned to the Evanston campus, it clicked that he wanted to commit there.

He enjoyed talking with NU’s defensive coaches and felt like the program’s philosophy fit his own. Johnson loved the campus and the facilities and enjoyed its proximity to home. He committed to the coaching staff Friday and waited until he personally told other coaches his decision before announcing publicly Monday.

“That was the final deciding thing,” Johnson said of Friday’s visit. “That’s what made Northwestern stand out at the end of it.”

Johnson finished his junior season with 39 total tackles, five sacks and four tackles for loss. He earned CCL/ESCC Orange Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors as well as all-conference recognition.

Johnson also is one of the most dominant wrestlers in the state. He has won two Class 2A heavyweight state titles and has gone undefeated over the past two seasons. Johnson said he’s going to work with the Northwestern coaching staff as to whether he can play college football and wrestle.

“I’m stoked to go to Northwestern. The more and more I think about it, the more I want to hurry up and graduate high school. But of course I’ve got one more year, I can’t think about it too much, but I’m excited.”

—  Dillan Johnson, Joliet Catholic junior defensive tackle

Joliet Catholic coach Jake Jaworski said some coaches might view Johnson’s height as a deterrent, but his wrestling background gives him an advantage.

“The dude is a powerful kid,” Jaworski said. “He’s advanced in his hand fighting, and obviously playing in the trenches and being a wrestler go hand-in-hand. Being able to leverage your body, leverage yourself against the defender, knowing angles, things like that. I think his game will translate really well to the Big Ten.”

Johnson is excited to be done with the recruiting process after spending much of the past year dedicating his time to talking to coaches and selling himself.

Now he’ll spend the summer continuing his plan on working hard and improving himself.

“I’m trying to take it up a notch and finish strong across the board,” Johnson said. “I want to go out my senior year and get the most out of it, because at this point, everything is getting set up for the next step and stage in my career as an athlete.

“At this point, it’s finishing up this part of my life strong.”

Joliet Catholic’s Dillan Johnson works on offensive line drills during practice. Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Joliet.
Michal Dwojak

Michal Dwojak

Michal is an award-winning sports journalist based in Chicago. He most recently served as the sports editor of The Glenview Lantern and Northbrook Tower and is a graduate of the College of Media at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.