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Gator Bowl could be Johnsons last
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Georgia Tech receiver Calvin Johnson makes a catch against Virginia on Sept. 21in Atlanta. Johnson may be playing in his final game for the Yellow Jackets on Monday. - photo by Associated Press
    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Calvin Johnson isn’t saying much. He rarely does. But the Gator Bowl sure feels like his college farewell.
    Johnson could be playing his final game for Georgia Tech on Monday when the Yellow Jackets face West Virginia in the Gator Bowl. If the receiver gives up his senior season, he likely will be one of the top picks in April’s NFL draft.
    Johnson keeps saying that he’ll wait until after the bowl game to evaluate his situation. But those around him have plenty to say — and it all sounds like a guy who should be playing in the NFL next season.
    ‘‘He’s the biggest, the fastest, the best eye-hand coordination player that I’ve ever coached ... ever, anywhere,’’ said Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey, who has spent 17 seasons at the college level and 16 years in the pros, all but two of those in the NFL.
    Johnson, a 6-foot-5, 235 pound junior, was an Associated Press All-American, won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver and was named Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year.
    ‘‘He’s a great player, but he’s a better person than he is a player,’’ Gailey said. ‘‘He is such a class act, and that’s why he’ll be successful at the next level, because of his work ethic and the fact he has character.’’
    Added Gailey, ‘‘He’s not going to be one of those guys that is just after the money. He wants to be the best he can be as a person and as a player.’’
    Johnson was one of Georgia Tech’s few bright spots in its last game. He had eight receptions for 117 yards on a day in which quarterback Reggie Ball struggled, completing just 9-of-29 in a 9-6 loss to Wake Forest.
    That game also was played at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, whaere Georgia Tech (9-4) will face West Virginia.
    The erratic Ball won’t play in the bowl game, having been ruled academically ineligible. Taylor Bennett, who has only one college start, will lead the Yellow Jackets’ offense.
    Johnson believes the sophomore will do a good job.
    ‘‘We’ve seen what he can do in the games he’s played in,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘We have confidence in him and his ability.’’
    Bennett returned the praise. His only start the past two years came in 2005, when Ball was diagnosed with meningitis the night before a game against Connecticut. On the first play, Bennett hooked up with Johnson for a 50-yard touchdown.
    ‘‘He’s a freak of nature,’’ said Bennett, who rooms with Johnson. ‘‘I don’t even think he knows how good he is. He’s unbelievable. He does everything you ask him to do and then some. He’s just a humble, all-around good kid. For someone to be so down to earth and be so great like that, it’s a blessing, that’s for sure.’’
    With Ball’s career over, Bennett has the inside track to the starting job for 2007. He sure would like to have Johnson lining up at receiver for one more season.
    ‘‘Of course, I want him to stay another year,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘Who doesn’t?’’
    Well, the guys on the other side of the line sure wouldn’t mind having Johnson leave for the pros.
    Whatever the decision, it won’t be soon enough to help West Virginia safety Eric Watts, who will have the primary responsibility for covering Johnson on Monday.
    Watts welcomed the challenge but knows how tough it will be to stop a guy who has 67 catches for 1,016 yards and 13 touchdowns.
    ‘‘I haven’t seen anybody like him,’’ Watts said. ‘‘I look forward to the opportunity to go against him. His size, his speed and the way he goes up for a ball, that’s everything you want in a receiver.’’