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Jayce Johnson, R.J. Brandon join list of Canisius football talents moving to Division I

Jayce Johnson wanted to go to a Division I college that would enable the 6-foot-5 athletically gifted quarterback an opportunity to play the position he has his whole life on the football field and not be converted to any other position.

Wagner offered the Canisius senior that chance, while Dartmouth pursued and secured one of Johnson's top targets in receiver R.J. Brandon.

National Signing Day saw two more members of the Crusaders football program be among the Western New York athletic talents to make their college commitments official in various Division I and II sports.

Johnson, who helped Canisius win back-to-back Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association championships and reach consecutive state finals, signed his letter of intent in front of family and friends during a late morning signing ceremony Wednesday at Canisius for the two All-Western New York selections.

"It's something you can only dream about," Johnson said of earning the Division I scholarship. "Coach (Rich) Robbins and all the coaches here put me in a great position to succeed and that's exactly what I went out and did."

Johnson caught the eye of Wagner during the 2016 New York State Catholic High Schools Athletic Association championship game. In that contest, Johnson led Canisius to a 50-44 comeback win over Cardinal Hayes in New York City. In that game, Johnson completed 18-of-21 passes for 287 yards and five touchdowns during an MVP performance.

"They were the only real school that approached me as a quarterback," said Johnson. "I've been a quarterback since I was 5 or 6 years old. That's all I know."

This past season, Johnson – an athletic dual-threat quarterback who also helped the Crusaders' basketball team win a state title in 2016 – passed for 1,764 yards and 18 touchdowns and rushed for a team-best 713 yards and 15 touchdowns in earning third-team All-Western New York honors.

"Very athletic, gets it done on the football field," Wagner offensive coordinator Rob Calabrese said via the team's Twitter account. "Just an outstanding kid. He's got some swagger and confidence, exactly what we're looking for at the quarterback position."

Johnson won't be the only Crusader on the Seahawks' roster as Chris Gangarossa is a sophomore lineman at Wagner.

Johnson and Brandon aren't the only Canisius players to earn Division I opportunities. In addition to Johnson and Brandon, Paul Woods signed during the early period with Rutgers, while running back Kenyatta Huston committed to Central Connecticut. The four commits are the same total as the rest of the schools in Western New York, according to team assistant coach Bryce Hopkins.

Hopkins also said during the past five years, the Crusaders have sent 20 players to NCAA Division I programs, 10 to FBS schools. The rest of the schools in Western New York have sent 17 to Division I schools in that span – nine to FBS schools.

"Today's always a terrific day for the school," Robbins said of National Signing Day. "The amount of guys we've been fortunate enough to put in college speaks not only to the preparation they receive in our football program but also their overall development as young men at Canisius."

That includes Brandon. Also a standout baseball player like his father Russ, the younger Brandon earned All-WNY honorable mention after catching 22 passes for 438 yards and five touchdowns. He averaged nearly 20 yards a catch as opponents had to make the tough call on either doubling Woods or Brandon on the outside on game days.

"It's a dream come true," Brandon said of earning his chance to play for an Ivy League school. "It shows that hard work pays off. It's a huge moment for me. For how much my parents have sacrificed for me, it feels good to make them proud."

Earlier Wednesday morning, Orchard Park's Brian Strybel, a first team All-WNY kicker, inked his letter of intent to attend Division II Gannon University. He comes from a law enforcement family and plans to major in criminal justice in hopes of becoming a federal agent.

He selected the Division II school over opportunities from Division I programs.

"Gannon checked off all the boxes for a school I'd feel comfortable at," said Strybel, who was a team captain for the Quakers last season. "They gave me a full ride. ... It's something I've always dreamed about doing."

Strybel thanked his personal kicking coach Sam Watt, along with current Ohio State kicker and former Canisius Crusaders Blake Haubeil, who he became friends with through his association with Watt.

Strybel led all of Class AA in kickoff yards (2,592) and touchbacks (31) in 2017. He was also perfect on all 27 of his extra-point kicks. He averaged 42.0 yards per punt.

Strybel helped the Quakers win the Section VI championship as a sophomore. He also helped them reach the final in 2016.

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