The University at Buffalo hopes it has found a diamond in the rough in new quarterback recruit Dominic Johnson of Catholic Central High School in Windsor, Ont.
Johnson, a 6-foot-6, 210-pound dual-threat weapon, was among UB’s class of 16 signees last week.
“He runs very, very well for a big man,” said Catholic Central coach James Rice. “He can throw the ball 70 yards downfield. He’s a very accurate passer. He’s an awesome athlete. We run a spread offense, similar to what Buffalo runs.”
Johnson’s emergence as a Division I scholarship QB is an underdog story. Catholic Central is a long way from the powerhouse level of prep football programs in Ohio or Pennsylvania.
“The school has no field to practice on,” Rice said. “We practice on a city park with no lines or uprights. I carry the football equipment in my vehicle. But despite all this, these students have passion, initiative and grit. Teachers work behind the scenes to provide team lunches on game days, food for film nights, and community building activities, such as ‘Random Acts of Kindness.’ In every activity, Dominic was there as a leader supporting his team and community.”
Johnson started playing organized football in seventh grade. He became the starting QB at Central as a sophomore. Rice took over two years ago as coach of the team, which had only 20 players. Central is a co-ed school with about 800 students. It won just one game two years ago.
This past season Central doubled its players to 40. Rice had to borrow some equipment from a more affluent school to accommodate for the growth.
Despite being ranked 13th out of 20 in its district entering the season, Central improved to 5-3 and made its league’s playoff semifinals.
Johnson passed for 17 touchdowns and 1,660 yards (207 a game) with two interceptions. He also rushed for 405 yards and four touchdowns. He was a first-team all-city selection.
“Dominic was pivotal in shifting the culture at the school,” Rice said. “Catholic Central has always been considered a basketball school, but now students are committing to football as well. He motivates those around him to always give their best, no excuses.”
UB was the only firm U.S. offer Johnson had. Michigan State and Central Michigan showed interest, Rice said, but preferred that Johnson stay in high school for one more season. (Canadian secondary schools go to Grade 13.) Johnson wanted to start college this fall.
“He’s a very talented athlete who’s maybe raw at this time,” UB coach Lance Leipold said. “He could have been in the ’17 class. If a lot more people would have known about him, I think the guy would have blown up even more. We’re fortunate to have him. . . . We decided to bring him in as quickly as possible. I’m very excited about his athleticism.”
UB offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki recruits Canada for Leipold and had seen Johnson at a summer football camp in Detroit last year. Johnson visited UB for the game against Ohio in October.
“I liked how it was a family environment,” Johnson said. “I got to go in the locker room with the players after the game and it was a family atmosphere.”
Johnson is a double-figure score on the Central basketball team. Central alumnus Mychal Mulder plays for the University of Kentucky. Central hoops coach Peter Cusumano said Illinois State, Weber State and Detroit all were interested in Johnson.
“They were all looking at him for 2017, but his best upside is in football,” Cusumano said.