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Canisius grad Jayce Johnson follows heart, mind with switch to basketball

Anyone who has seen Jayce Johnson in action on a basketball court or football field knows he's blessed with unquestioned height and athleticism.

But there will be a time when the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Canisius High School graduate is simply enjoying living life to the fullest and not playing sports.

That's one of the reasons the former Division I football-commit to Wagner is now preparing for life as a Division I basketball player at Middle Tennessee State. The rigors associated with playing basketball figure to be easier on the body than football.

"You're going to have your body longer in life than the span of playing any sport so that definitely factored into the decision (to switch sports)," Johnson said. "I spent a lot of time talking to a lot of people (regarding) what I was going to do, but I definitely feel I made the right decision."

Johnson, an All-Western New York third-team selection at quarterback and point guard as a senior, announced last Friday he will continue his student-athlete career at Middle Tennessee State.

Johnson averaged 12.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game last season for a Canisius team that finished 23-3, ranked third in the state among Class A teams. He played a key role in the Crusaders winning two Manhattan Cup championships and one state Catholic title (2016) the past three years.

Canisius' Jayce Johnson scores during a win over Timon-St. Jude last season. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

In football, he quarterbacked the Crusaders to back-to-back Monsignor Martin titles, a state championship (2016) and a state runner-up finish (2017). In the 2016 state final, he completed 18-of-21 passes for 287 yards and five touchdowns to earn game MVP honors. Last season, he passed for 1,764 yards and 18 touchdowns and rushed for a team-best 713 yards and 15 TDs.

Johnson is believed to be the first Western New York male to receive a Division I offer in football and basketball since former Turner/Carroll standout Malik Campbell during the mid-1990s, according to Johnson's AAU basketball coach Ty Parker.

Campbell received an offer for football from Maryland and later an offer from Syracuse for basketball. He played two seasons of hoops at Syracuse before switching sports and playing three seasons of football with the Orange.

"Jayce, he's a special talent," Parker said. "He has that God-given ability. … Football was the only offer he had (on National Signing Day) … He works hard at his craft. He opened up doors for himself and gave himself options."

Though Johnson had already inked his letter of intent to attend Wagner on a football scholarship last February, he opted to play basketball in May with the local-based AAU team Corey Graham Elite with a goal of catching the eye of a Division I suitor.

Why?

He likes basketball more and didn't want to give up on that Division I dream.

"Jayce did an unbelievable job for four years being a great two-sport athlete," Canisius basketball coach Kyle Husband said. "I always chose to believe his upside in basketball was higher and that his love for the game in basketball was second to none."

On July 13, about a month after receiving his release from Wagner, Johnson captured his first basketball offer, from Canisius for 2019. Four days later, Middle Tennessee State called with an offer to join the program this year.

"I definitely was looking forward to going to prep school, but when I was given a chance to go (to college) this year (prep school) didn't make sense," Johnson said.

Jayce Johnson had 29 total touchdowns at quarterback as a senior for Canisius. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

That's because Johnson already has established a relationship with MTS coach Nick McDevitt and his staff. Since they wanted him immediately, why risk rocking the boat. Johnson expects to compete for playing time right away.

"Basketball is what I wanted to do," he said. "It's a thrill. I get to play both sides of the ball. It's a faster game."

After thriving in two sports, Johnson now gets to focus on just basketball. A slick ball-handler with the ability to get to the rim off the dribble, Johnson is perhaps best known for being one of the top defenders in the area during his three seasons at Canisius. It was commonplace to see Johnson with a grin on his face when playing lock-down defense on another team's top player.

Johnson is looking forward to being able to devote more time toward honing his skills in one sport instead of splitting his time between two.

"To put the time in one sport would definitely raise my ceiling so I could hit my true potential," Johnson said. "Now that I can do that only time will tell how good I could become."

"People are going to see his true abilities in basketball," Husband said. "The sky is the limit."

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