Mike Jasinski knew two things were certain as he arrived on the campus of Texas Christian University on August 11.
The first was that it was going to be hot. After all, it was Texas in mid-August.
The second was that he wanted to get to TCU as early as possible, and not to beat the heat.
Jasinski, less than three months into his new role as Chargers area scout for the Southwest, needed to get a head start on making connections and finding out as much information as possible about potential TCU draftees.
What Jasinski didn't know was that the Horned Frogs were about to embark on a magical season that would culminate with an appearance in the National Championship.
Or that he was about to get his first in-person look at TCU's best offensive playmaker, someone who would eventually become the Bolts' first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Wide receiver Quentin Johnston - all 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds of him - didn't take long to make an impression on Jasinski.
"I was talking to the strength coach off to the side, and they were just doing some routes on air and warming up," Jasinski recalled. "But out of the corner of my eye, I see a red-zone fade ball that Quentin goes up for. It felt like the guy was just levitating in the air.
"That was my first live exposure to him, and you felt it," Jasinski continued. "Guys that end up as first-round players, their movements just feel different. There's no doubt about it.
"The strength coach saw it, too," Jasinski added. "He had a wry smirk and just kind of said, 'Oh yeah, he can do that.' You see stuff on film but then you see that and it was just so effortless. It was just like, 'Wow, OK. This guy is different.' His explosiveness just really stood out."
Jasinski wasn't the only person connected to the Chargers in attendance for that summer practice in Fort Worth.
Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson was there, too, back on the campus where TCU's all-time leading rusher established himself as a college football legend.
Roughly nine months later, everything came full circle.
On the clock with the 21st overall pick - and Tomlinson himself on stage at the team's draft party - the Chargers selected Johnston with both a short and long-term vision in mind for him to boost the offense.
"He's big, strong and fast. That's a good way to start it off as a player," Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco said of Johnston after Round 1. "Great work ethic that we love. We know all these players that are drafted, they're all talented. But once they get in this league, it takes a lot of work to get to where you want to go and keep improving.
"He has some physical characteristics that we think he can add to our offense in a different role," Telesco added. "We're trying to give Justin [Herbert], our whole offense and [Offensive Coordinator] Kellen Moore a lot of different styles of players to use in different situations. We think he can fit that."
Here is the inside story of how the Chargers scouted Johnston, the impression he made on them and how the wide receiver eventually ended up in powder blue.
That scorching August day wasn't the first time Johnston appeared on the Chargers radar.
While the focus of the NFL Draft ramps up each spring, teams often scout players years before they even declare for the draft.
Johnston - who was a top-75 overall recruit in the nation coming out of high school - began generating buzz as far back as his freshman season.
The job of an area scout is to evaluate which players could be drafted the following April. But it's also to keep tabs on players who could be top prospects a year or two down the road.
Tyler Lyon, a Pro and College Scout for the Bolts working out of the team's training facility, was the Chargers area scout for the Southwest before Jasinski took over that role roughly a year ago.
If you're looking for the first person who scouted Johnston for the Chargers, it's Lyon.
Lyon said he knew of Johnston in 2020 when the freshman wide receiver led the Horned Frogs in receiving yards - the first of three straight seasons he'd accomplish that.
And while Johnston had shown flashes of potential, his breakout game came in mid-October of 2021 against Oklahoma.
AP Photo/Alonzo Adams
Johnston did it all against the Sooners, catching seven passes for a whopping 185 yards and three touchdowns.
"He had a big running catch down the sideline, got behind the defense ... you could see the speed," said Lyon, who was in attendance that day in Norman. "After that I kind of honed in on him a little more even though he was a sophomore. Just watched him a little more to see how he got out of his breaks.
"That's the thing for me, how big he is, how he's able to move like that," Lyon added. "Like, 'OK, this is the real deal right here'. He was also a high recruit, he's one of the best recruits TCU's gotten in a long time. When you go in as an area scout, that's something you look at. If he's a top recruit and he has production, easy start."
Two weeks after Johnston's performance against Oklahoma, TCU and longtime football coach Gary Patterson mutually agreed to part ways.
With the staff on the way out, Lyon took advantage of the turnover to get as much info as possible on Johnston despite the fact he was still a sophomore and a year away from possibly declaring.
"I made sure I got their opinion on him before the next staff came in," Lyon said.
Not much changed with Johnston in the first six months of 2022.
The Chargers front office and personnel department was focused on the 2022 NFL Draft, which included the likes of Zion Johnson, Jamaree Salyer and others.
But a few weeks after that ended, the Bolts held their annual summer meetings to get a head start on the 2023 NFL Draft.
Johnston was about to pop up on many people's radars with the Chargers. He was certainly on Jasinski's, who'd already done a deep dive into his film.
"He jumped off right away. I had heard of his name, so I was intrigued," Jasinski said. "But as soon as you watch film on him ... guys that end up going high kind of jump off the screen a little bit and move a little different.
"He certainly did ... it was pretty instantaneous that you knew he had a lot of ability," Jasinski added.
So, when Jasinski was asked to submit his list of the Top 30 players in his area heading into the 2023 season, Johnston was on the top tier.
For many within the Bolts front office, including Justin Sheridan, it was their first exposure to Johnston. Sheridan is a national crosschecker for the Chargers, meaning he dives into prospects after the initial evaluations have been completed.
Sheridan offered high praise of Johnston, who immediately stood out as one of the best wide receivers in the nation.
"It wasn't hard to see that this kid was really talented," Sheridan said. "But when you look at the whole country, he was the best in the West for me from the jump.
"Just the combination of the stuff he did and put on tape, he stood out to me," Sheridan added. "Q was on the radar early and often. Big, fast and strong ... and he affects the game at all three levels."
It was no surprise then that Sheridan's first in-person college football game of the 2023 season was to see Johnston.
TCU was on the road in Colorado, and Sheridan was fired up to watch No. 1 for the Horned Frogs as he settled in next to Jasinski in Boulder.
But the life of a scout is about riding the ups and downs, especially as Johnston tallied just three catches for 22 yards in a season opener that was delayed nearly 45 minutes due to lightning in the area.
The Horned Frogs, under new coach Sonny Dykes, mustered just 63 yards of offense and no offensive points in the first half.
And while they turned it on in the second half for a 25-point win, Johnston wasn't targeted much as the Horned Frogs also underwent a change at quarterback.
"Mike and I were both at the game, we sat side-by-side," Sheridan said. "TCU was stuck in the mud almost and had nothing going offensively.
"It's luck of the draw in scouting. You schedule them when you can," Sheridan added.
Jasinski said he felt the same sentiments as Sheridan after the Colorado game.
"You knew it was going to happen, it was just a matter of time before everything would click," Jasinski said of a possible big-time performance from Johnston.
Sure enough, Johnston got the nation's attention on October 8 on the road against Kansas.
With both teams undefeated and ranked in the Top 20, Johnston announced his presence with career-best totals of 14 catches and 206 yards.
Jasinski, who had watched the Texas-Oklahoma game, could only smile as he listened on the radio in his rental car.
"You could see the guy's body movement and you knew it was coming," Jasinski said. "Would it have been great to see it in person? Maybe.
"But in the grand scheme of scouting, you can't put too much stock into one game. It just skews your opinion," Jasinski added. "It doesn't matter when it happened, just that it did happen."
AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann
Johnston was just getting started, posting multiple mega games while helping lead TCU to the National Championship.
There was his 180-yard performance against Oklahoma State, a 139-yard showing against Kansas State in the Big 12 title game and, of course, his 163-yard masterpiece in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
By the time Johnston officially declared for the NFL Draft in mid-January, the Chargers knew all about him.
"The size that he has, he can run, he's long, he can run, he's athletic, he can make plays with the ball in his hands," said JoJo Wooden, the Chargers Director of Player Personnel. "You see him make big plays down the field, you see him make big plays between the numbers as well. You just saw him do it a lot.
"Obviously, great program, had a lot of success this past year so you knew about the quarterback and some of the other guys they had down there as well," Wooden added. "Just jumps out on you when you watch one guy and you see this other guy making all the plays as well, so it's pretty easy scouting."
Hoag Performance Center was bustling in mid-February.
The 2023 NFL Scouting Combine was two weeks away and the Chargers' entire scouting department had assembled in the Draft Room for important meetings.
Jasinski could likely tell you about Johnston in his sleep by this point. And others around the organization were also high on the 21-year-old from TCU.
"What stood out for me was the consensus on it. We all felt the same way," said Kevin Kelly, the Chargers Senior Director of College Scouting. "Q is exactly what you look for in a receiver - he's big, he's fast, his catch radius, his competitiveness, his production.
"We just really liked the whole package," Kelly added.
At this point, Jasinski had talked to Johnston by phone to get a sense of the person and not the player.
Both of Johnston's parents, Carl and Sherry, are Army veterans. Carl was in Kuwait in 1995 and Sherry served during Operation Desert Storm.
A day after getting drafted, Johnston credited his parents for helping him reach the NFL.
"Both of my parents were in the Army. The baseline of who I am, of Quentin, is based on discipline and respect," Johnston said. "That's something that I feel like has stayed with me from the time I could talk until now, and something that I'm going to keep doing.
"There was a lot of waking up early in the morning just to do whatever - a lot of everything, being on-point. I got used to it and that's just how I move now," Johnston added.
When asked for his biggest inspiration, Johnston referenced his parents again.
"That's who I am, as a person. I see a lot of myself in them, whether it's something that I say, it's something that my dad would do," Johnston said. "For sure, them."
Jasinski said he picked up on Johnston's strong upbringing when the two talked by phone.
"He's a very humble guy. You could tell he was brought up right," Jasinski said. "Parents were in the military, his uncle was in the Navy. Very respectful, very direct.
"He was open and honest, but just a humble guy," Jasinski added. "Not lacking confidence but he had a sense of humility about it, which I appreciated."
And when it came time to bring Johnston up to a packed room of NFL evaluators, Jasinski didn't mince words.
"I do my best to be as consistent as I can in terms of talking about the player, wherever they may be stacked or wherever you may have them," Jasinski said. "But your enthusiasm for a guy will show through a little bit.
"You imagine in your own head the vision you can see on your roster and how he could help the room and elevate our offense," Jasinski continued. "You want to make it be known you like this player and that he could do X, Y and Z for us. Make sure that everyone who is in the room feels the emotion of where I'm at with that.
"He was always one of the top guys. He jumped out and stayed that way throughout," Jasinski added. "There was the Texas running back [Bijan Robinson] that people were high on, and Q was right there as well. He was a guy we were really interested in."
Two weeks later, the Chargers and the rest of the NFL descended upon Indianapolis for the Combine.
Johnston was about to meet key Chargers decision makers for the first time in person. He made sure to not waste the opportunity.
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
One of the most frenzied weeks of the NFL year takes place in Indianapolis at the Combine.
For a player like Johnston - a junior who was too young to participate in annual All-Star games - the Combine is where teams get an in-depth, in-person look at certain college players.
And when it comes time for those ever-important 15-minute interviews, teams try to cram as much information as they can into that small window.
Whatever Johnston said during his 15 minutes certainly stuck with Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley, who referenced that initial meeting in a phone call to the wide receiver on draft night.
"Q! Hey, this is Coach Staley. You made a big time first impression on me in that Combine interview," Staley said. "We've been studying you ever since and we were hoping this day would come, man."
An hour later, Staley referenced that Combine interview in a post-draft press conference.
"There are some times when you don't learn anything from those interviews," Staley said. "And then there are some times where you just have a feeling from a guy that, 'Man, I'd like to join up with him.'
"I think there are some times when a guy leaves a 15-minute interview and you look at each other and say, 'Yeah, that's one of us,' and that's how we felt. All it is a feeling," Staley added. "Then, you have to dive deep into the player. But it's one of those impressions that he made on us where there's just a focus, there's a maturity, there's a pride."
Kelly and Chargers wide receivers coach Chris Beatty led the interview that night in Indianapolis.
Each recalled what they took away from their short time with Johnston.
"You could tell he was 'Yes, sir. No, sir.' The military background kind of shows up when you meet him," Beatty said. "I think he had better knowledge of the offense and what the position entails than most because sometimes you get in there and certain college systems don't teach a lot of the things that translate to the pros, but he had some of that in his game.
"He had been coached up by those guys pretty well, so I think those things showed up," Beatty added. "Really it's more about getting a feel - because the meetings are so short - so it's really more getting a feel of would this guy fit in our room, does he fit in our culture, those kinds of things, which I thought he did."
Kelly added: "Oh yeah, there really was [a good vibe]. He's just a tremendous young man. It was reminiscent of Mike [Williams] when we interviewed, scouted and recruited him out of Clemson. He's just got a real positive vibe; confident guy like Mike. Players like that, you just want to find a way to get them on your team. The other 31 teams are watching the film and interviewing the same players. Quentin, he'll impress everybody."
With one box clearly checked, Johnston then impressed on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
While he didn't do any running or agility drills, Johnston wowed in a pair of jumps, showing off his elite athleticism in both the vertical jump (40.5 inches) and the broad jump (11 feet, two inches).
Johnston's broad jump was in the 98th percentile of prospects, and his vertical jump was in the 96th percentile of this year's class.
"It's more of a checks and balances. You never want to be swayed way high or way low on a guy because of what he does in a pair of shorts," Sheridan said. "He did the jumps in Indy but jumped out of the gym. You could see the twitch and athleticism from his background as a basketball player."
Johnston would eventually run the 40-yard dash and do other agility drills at TCU's Pro Day in late March.
And with the 2023 NFL Draft creeping up on the calendar, Johnston had cemented himself as one of the top wide receiver prospects across the league.
The Chargers drafted board had been set, and the hay was in the barn.
Now it was a waiting game until April 27.
Tom Telesco had a feeling that the latter half of the first round would see a run on wide receivers.
No receivers had been taken by the middle of Round 1, but teams who were potentially interested in drafting one were looming.
Sure enough, Seattle took Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba with the 20th overall pick. The run commenced, as the Chargers took Johnston followed by Zay Flowers landing in Baltimore and Minnesota taking Jordan Addison.
It was the first time in draft history that four wide receivers had been drafted in succession.
Up at the Chargers draft party at Westfield Century City in Los Angeles, the Bolts were elated.
"No question. I thought as far as the things that we look for, he's a really good fit short term and long term," Beatty said. "We were really happy with the one that we got. At the end of the day, as soon as you make the pick and you celebrate, then you start thinking of how we're going to use them."
Was Beatty pushing for a wide receiver at No. 21 overall?
"Everyone is selfish," Beatty said with a laugh. "Everybody wants their position to get drafted so at the end of the day when you get to 15, 16, 17 and you're like 'Man, no receivers have gone,' you're always hoping one of them falls that we have a high grade on."
Telesco and Wooden, two of the Chargers' top decision makers, credited the Bolts front office for hours and hours of prep work.
And when the board unfolded the way it did, nobody was fazed when the Chargers were on the clock.
"You don't go into the draft saying, 'Hey, this is the position that we're going to take.' We've never done that before. We didn't do that today," Telesco said after Round 1. "As we got about six or seven picks away, we kind of saw what our group was with that pick.
"Do we want to trade out? Do we want to stay and pick? We decided to stay and pick," Telesco added.
Wooden said: "There was a good plan in place in terms of the different scenarios or possibilities that were there. It wasn't a surprise that it kind of ended up the way it did, at least for me. We knew we were going to have options there and again, all the work we had done up to that kind of played out exactly that way when it came to that pick."
So, after months and months of scouting and evaluating Johnston, what made him the pick?
To start, there was the rare combination size (6-foot-3 and 208 pounds) and athleticism (see those testing numbers above).
Everyone with the Chargers who scouted Johnston all expressed similar versions of their evaluations of him.
"We love his run-after-catch skills," Telesco said. "He's a big receiver, but he has really quick feet to change directions - so he can not only try and make somebody miss to make yards but also, he's big and strong to pull through some tackles."
Jasinski added: "When he was running routes, you felt like he was a 5-foot-11 guy. He can really sink his hips and you really don't see that with second-level routes like Quentin had. It was pretty rare. He can run curls, digs, outs ... and run it like a smaller guy."
Wooden said: "He's built like an NFL receiver. That was a big thing for us as well, he had NFL size, he runs well, he can catch the ball, he's athletic. The way they used him at TCU, he wasn't just running deep balls, he was doing other things that you saw him do as well, just like the whole package."
Beatty also offered his pre-draft scouting report on Johnston's all-around game.
"I thought he was really light on his feet. Really good after the catch. The first thing that popped out to me was his ability to transition into a ball carrier, like, right now," Beatty said. "His RAC [run after catch] was tremendous. He doesn't have a lot of wasted motion, he makes people miss without having to come to a stop and he can make people miss on the move.
"I think he's got some small forward to his game, but he also has the ability to be a power forward and dunk on guys and go over their heads. He can do both of them at the same time," Beatty continued.
"He checked all the boxes," Beatty added.
The Chargers are not going to ask Johnston to be WR1 as a rookie.
Not in a room with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Joshua Palmer.
But Beatty wants him to compete for playing time as if he is a top target, a role he certainly might grow into down the road.
"At the end of the day, making him feel at ease that he doesn't have to carry us," Beatty said. "That's one of the great things about this situation is. He's got Mike Williams, he's got Keenan Allen and he's got Josh Palmer ... they've been in this league over time.
"So it's not like we're counting on you to come in and be the No. 1 receiver on Day 1, but that being said, he should compete to be the No. 1 receiver on Day 1. They kind of both go together," Beatty added.
Johnston said the established trio of receivers stopped by his hotel room in Southern California after he was drafted to check in on him and welcome him to the squad.
"Letting me know that we were all family. Letting me know what to expect," Johnston recalled of the first interaction. "Kind of a crash course they gave me of what to expect, how stuff is run, a baseline so that I could get an understanding and feel for the football team, as much as I can at that point."
"That's everything," Johnston added. "I feel like I came into a good situation, starting off initially under some guys that have been in the league, playing at a high level for a minute. I feel like I can pick a lot of their game, apply it to mine, then kind of expand from there."
The man tasked with finding a way to get Johnston involved in the Bolts offense said he can't wait to get started on that process.
"Q really stood out for us as we went through the process," said Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore. "Everyone kind of sees the measurables, the size as far as the height and the weight. What he did for TCU from his versatility, I thought, was really, really special.
"His ability to kind of catch-and-run, he was a fly-sweep guy. He got the ball in a lot of different ways," Moore added. "You saw a lot of versatility in his game that maybe, initially, someone may not have necessarily anticipated. We were really excited that he was there and available for us."
On a larger scale, the selection of Johnston makes it three straight years the Chargers have drafted an offensive player to build around quarterback Justin Herbert.
"Certainly, as you're building your offense, we're building it around our franchise quarterback," Telesco said.
The Chargers hope Johnston makes an immediate impact as a rookie as he goes through the rookie learning curve in the NFL.
But they also have lofty plans for him down the line, too.
"Taking a guy in the first round, you're not taking him for the next three or four years, you're taking him for the next 10 years. That's the plan," Lyon said. "That is something to definitely consider and for him, he fits in short term and long term."
Johnston donned a Chargers jersey for the first time earlier this month at rookie minicamp.
And while Johnston's official NFL debut (Week 1 at home against the Dolphins) is still roughly four months away, the wide receiver's journey with the Bolts has just begun.
It was the culmination of incredible effort from tons of people over multiple years.
"I've moved onto 2024," said a laughing Jasinski, who was already grinding the tape on a prospect for next year. "I don't see it as a feather in my cap because we're all working for the same goal. But I'm genuinely excited to get him because I think he can add another element to our offense.
"Quentin, in some ways, is still kind of new to the game," Jasinski added. "The fact that he's going to be in a room with Mike Williams and Keenan Allen and what makes those guys great, plus adding what Quentin can do, he can just elevate our whole offense. The validation is just being able to watch him play and add to our offense."
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