NEW YORK - Lane Johnson remembered a Saturday night in East Texas, when he was a backup quarterback in August 2008 preparing for his first game at Kilgore College. Kilgore's opponent was Fort Scott Community College, whose defense featured a little-known end named Jason Pierre-Paul who entered the game with a backflip.
Johnson could hardly have imagined he would be playing against Pierre-Paul in the NFL five years later. And even if that scenario was a distant possibility, Johnson would be a quarterback being rushed by Pierre-Paul, certainly not a tackle tasked with blocking him.
But this is all part of Johnson's wild ascent. It spans five positions over five years at two colleges. Now his hope is that it was merely a prologue to what comes next, when Johnson shoulders the distinction of being Chip Kelly's first draft pick and the most celebrated Eagles pick since Donovan McNabb was booed on draft day in 1999.
"My story has just begun," Johnson said.
Johnson's story started in Groveton, Texas, a logging town of about 1,100 a couple of hours from Houston. His mother is a prison social worker. His father works construction for the highway department. His stepfather was a high school football coach for 20 years.
"You either work for the state, a teacher, you work for the government, or you're a ranger," said James Evans, his stepfather. "And that's all there is there."
Johnson's first love was basketball. He also ran track, threw the shot put, and played baseball. And he quarterbacked his high school football team. Johnson, who stood 6-foot-6 and weighed about 200 pounds, wanted to play like Brett Favre.
Johnson earned honorable mention all-state quarterback honors, but he did not receive a single scholarship offer. Because of the size of his school, he played in the lowest division and received little attention. There were just 33 students in his graduating class.
"When you have your superstar schools like Southlake Carroll and Highland Park and places like that in Dallas, it's easy to get overlooked," Johnson said.
Football was at the epicenter of the town's activity. Johnson compared Groveton to "Friday Night Lights schools, except kind of on a smaller scale." And he didn't want his high school career to be his last football highlight.
Without anywhere else to go, Johnson enrolled at Kilgore in August 2008. He became the starter in the eighth game of the season when another quarterback was suspended for fighting, but he was replaced in the third quarter.
"It was a really tough year for me," Johnson said of his year playing quarterback at Kilgore.
He moved to tight end, and four-year colleges noticed his athletic ability. Johnson's high school coach had played at Oklahoma, so Johnson took a few visits to Norman. He weighed 255 pounds, nearly 50 pounds more than when he arrived. He ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, which opened eyes of college coaches, and he signed with the Sooners in 2009.
He moved to defensive end at Oklahoma, but the Sooners needed offensive linemen. Johnson labored to keep his weight over 270 pounds, and coach Bob Stoops asked his strength coach what it would take to get Johnson to 300 pounds and offensive tackle. The answer? "A cheeseburger and a week."
Stoops knew the move to tackle would work within the first couple of practices. He even told Johnson, "You watch, you're going to be a first, second-round [NFL] draft choice."
Stoops said Johnson always finished 10 to 15 yards ahead of the other offensive and defensive linemen during gassers at practice.
And the key is that the strides Johnson has made in two seasons are just the beginning of what could happen in the next few years. Johnson said clips of him as a first-year tackle show "a very, raw unpolished player."
A part of Johnson wishes he could still play quarterback, but Stoops determined that Johnson was best at protecting quarterbacks. And in just two seasons, he became a top-five pick.
"Nobody ever considers going from a skill position to playing tackle," Johnson said. "After going to tackle, I just grew into it, and now I feel natural."
Stoops said Johnson "is not close" to his ceiling. That was the sentiment of Kelly. Johnson will be compared to Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel, the top two picks Thursday, throughout his career, and the ranking of the players three years from now could be different than it was on Thursday night.
"I think when all of us reach our pro potential, I think mine will be much higher than theirs, to be honest," Johnson said.
After his final college game, Johnson heard that he would be a third-round pick. Following the Senior Bowl and combine, Johnson started hearing about the first round. In the last month, mock drafts pushed him into the top 10.
"But you can't really pay attention to it," he said. Johnson knew who had the No. 4 pick, and he knew how much the Eagles liked him. He even spoke with Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland hours before the draft.
He was joined in New York Thursday by his wife, Chelsea. She's the daughter of former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end John Goodman. They met four years ago at Oklahoma and married in January.
Johnson wore a gray suit to Radio City Music Hall Thursday. One of Johnson's friends sent Johnson a photo of Favre, Johnson's favorite player, wearing jean shorts on draft night. The friend joked that would be Johnson. Back in Groveton, Johnson joked that there was probably "a lot of beer drinking" in celebration.
And there was reason to celebrate. Despite his limited resumé, Johnson was supposed to a mid-round pick, then a borderline first-rounder, then maybe a top-10 pick. Now he's a major building block.
"I think even now just proving myself to the fans, to the players, to those people who say, 'Why would you take someone so inexperienced?' " Johnson said. "I'm ready to prove myself."