Noah Johnson always wanted to play for USF —as a quarterback. Five years ago, the Bulls were unwilling to do that.
Instead, they extended him an opportunity to play receiver.
The Armwood standout was not interested in making that move. So Johnson went to Alcorn State, becoming the Southwestern Athletic Conference offensive player of the year as a quarterback and the MVP of the SWAC title game two years ago.
Now, Johnson is coming home.
On Thursday, he announced on his Twitter page that the NCAA approved his medical waiver and gave him another year of eligibility. That allowed Johnson to transfer to USF — this time as a quarterback.
“I’m super excited and so thankful for this opportunity,” Johnson said. “I’ve been a USF fan since I was a kid and always dreamed of playing here.”
The circumstances have changed dramatically since Johnson went through the recruiting process in high school five years ago. After all, the Bulls have gone through three coaches in that span. Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott took over at USF this offseason. Scott overhauled the staff, bringing in Florida Atlantic’s Charlie Weis Jr. as offensive coordinator and Alcorn State’s Pat White as running backs coach.
The hires made by Johnson’s hometown team played a factor, too.
“There were a ton of schools that were considering me, but I knew where I wanted to play once I figured out I was going to transfer,” Johnson said. “After talking with Coach Scott and Coach Weis that pretty much did it for me.”
Johnson, a multidimensional force, put up impressive numbers with the Hawks, accounting for more than 70 touchdowns while leading the program to two straight title game appearances (2013-14). Still, the stat that mattered, at least when it came to colleges, was height. The 6-foot Johnson was considered too short to play at the Division I-A level.
Other schools, such as Bowling Green, FIU and Indiana, wanted him to become a receiver, too.
Johnson would not budge.
Alcorn State, a Division I-AA program, was the only school willing to take a chance on Johnson as a quarterback. And that only happened through the connections Armwood defensive coordinator Kyle Warden had with the staff.
The Braves ended up offering without even watching film.
After redshirting, Johnson saw limited action. He performed well when given the chance. In 2016, Johnson accounted for eight touchdowns against Mississippi Valley State, tying the school’s single-game record originally held by Steve McNair.
Johnson continued to draw comparisons to McNair because of their dual-threat capabilities. In Johnson’s MVP season two years ago, he had more than 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing. He hoped to build off that performance last year but ended up missing most of what was supposed to be his final college season with a separated AC joint.
That setback was one the toughest he had to endure. But Johnson did not sulk. He refused to give up.
Now, Johnson has a chance to finish strong.
Though he joins the Bulls as quarterback, he is not guaranteed to start. Johnson will be competing with North Carolina transfer Cade Fortin and former Plant standout Jordan McCloud.
“I believe when you look at what Coach Scott did at Clemson and Coach Weis was doing at FAU and what I did at Alcorn, the offenses are similar in a way,” Johnson said. “I am a very confident player, and we’ll see how things turn out. I’m just very excited to be able to be presented with this opportunity.”
Returning to the area also gives Johnson the opportunity to help out others. At Alcorn State, Johnson volunteered mostly with sports camps, including the De’Lance Turner Clinic in New Augusta, Miss.
In high school, Johnson met Justin Miller, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a condition that causes rapid muscle deterioration. The two bonded at an MDA 7-on-7 football camp put together by former Plant coach Robert Weiner, who became the quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator at Toledo in January.
The interactions prompted Justin’s older brother, James, now a linebacker at Indiana, to transfer from Madison County to Armwood six years ago.
Now back home, Johnson said he will be more involved with MDA camps.