University at Buffalo wide receiver Anthony Johnson doesn't have to look further than his own family picnics to find motivation for his football career.
Johnson is a cousin of NFL stars Jadeveon Clowney and Johnathan Joseph of the Houston Texans and of former Bills safety Jonathan Meeks.
"It motivates me," Johnson said Tuesday at UB's preseason media day. "All of us came from the same place, the same school, and I've watched them work to get where they are. I've got to push like they did."
Johnson's pedigree and his athletic talent make him the most exciting newcomer on the UB team this season.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder has the size and speed to be an impact player in the Mid-American Conference. He was timed in 4.44 seconds last month in the 40-yard dash.
He is a new starter at receiver, and the Bulls hope he can provide a much-needed boost to the passing game.
"A very talented young man who shows flashes every day that he could be an impactful player in our offense," said UB coach Lance Leipold. "I think Anthony has come miles in what he's done. It's just a matter of consistency every day. But he's going to help this football team. From our arrival here, we looked at what we wanted to address on the outside. You're looking for taller receivers who are fast, physical, able to go up and make plays."
"There's really nothing in our offense he's not able to do, whether it be run deep, catch the ball over the middle, run bubble screens," Leipold said. "We've got to find the way to get the ball in his hands."
Johnson had a celebrated high school career at South Pointe High in Rock Hill, S.C., a city known for producing great talent. Besides Clowney, Joseph and Meeks, former Bills Stephon Gilmore and Jeff Burris are Rock Hill products, along with Oakland receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Johnson was all-area in football and first-team all-state in basketball. He's one of the few players to play in the all-state, postseason all-star game in both sports as a senior.
Said UB receivers coach Rob Ianello: "His high school basketball coach told me he thought he was one of the top five athletes ever to come out of Rock Hill, S.C., and that's saying something."
"He's an explosive receiver," said Meeks, the former Bills safety. "In basketball, he was high-flying, you know what I'm saying? So that's good for a receiver. He has good hands. He tore it up in high school. . . . He's kind of a steal for UB."
Johnson did not have the grades to get a Division I scholarship. He spent one year at Butler Community College in Kansas and another year at Iowa Western CC. He averaged 26.6 yards on 21 catches at Butler and 22.8 on 19 catches at Iowa Western.
"In high school, all I cared about was sports," Johnson said. "It took me to go through Juco to realize I really do need the education. I started taking care of my grades more."
Mississippi State was interested in Johnson in the spring of 2016. But Iowa Western was on a trimester academic calendar and Johnson wasn't going to finish his two-year degree until July. Mississippi State didn't want to wait. UB signed him, and he showed up in Amherst the day before training camp.
Johnson caught some eye-popping long balls in training camp last summer but also had a lower back strain in camp. Leipold decided to red-shirt him.
"Red-shirting him last year was the best thing for him to learn," Ianello said. "The ability for him to practice every day and be a good student has allowed him to hit it on all cylinders this year. I'm really proud of what he's done. He has embraced school, and he has embraced the work ethic."
Johnson said he earned a 3.32 grade-point average in the spring. After sitting out, he's eager to produce.
"I'm ready to play," he said. "I just want to get some touchdowns, show everybody what I'm capable of and just make plays to help us win."
Both offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki and Ianello stress Johnson has to keep proving his consistency as UB prepares for its season opener Aug. 31.
"He just has to embrace the every-play part of being a good receiver," Ianello said.
"The question is," Kotelnicki said, "is he a 20- or 30-play kind of a guy where he just does one thing and is kind of a one-trick pony? Or is he a 70-snap guy where he doesn't leave the field and does everything?"
"Obviously his size is something you can't coach," Kotelnicki said. "He's documented as one of our top two fastest players on our team. And he is not a track guy. He is a total football guy. He's big, he's fast, he does a great job catching the ball. Typically those three things make a good receiver."