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Former Armwood standout Noah Johnson transfers to USF

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Former Armwood standout Noah Johnson

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. 

Former Armwood standout Noah Johnson
Former Armwood standout Noah Johnson/Photo credit: Chris Wilson, C&V Photography

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.   

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College football: Athlete update

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The top performances from former area stars in week five of the college football season. 

DB Dane Belton, Jr., Iowa: The former Jesuit standout had one of the Hawkeyes’ six interceptions in a win over Maryland.

QB Devin Black, Sr., Bethune Cookman: The former Armwood standout accounted for 258 yards (131 rushing, 127 passing) and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) in a loss to South Carolina State.  

DL Zachary Carter, Sr., Florida: The former Hillsborough standout recorded three tackles and a sack in a loss to Kentucky.  

QB Austin Day, Sr., Marist: The former Clearwater standout threw for 149 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Valparaiso. 

RB Jerome Ford, Jr., Cincinnati: The former Armwood star ran for 67 yards on 17 carries in a win over Notre Dame. 

RB Dominic Gonella, So., North Dakota State: The former Bloomingdale standout ran for 37 yards on seven carries in a win over North Dakota. 

WR Travell Harris, Sr., Washington State: The former Jesuit standout had seven catches for 46 yards in a win over California. 

DB Kym-Mani King, Jr., Iowa State: The former Mitchell standout recorded three tackles and picked off a pass in a win over Kansas. 

RB Keyvone Lee, So., Penn State: The former American Collegiate standout ran for 74 yards on eight carries in a win over Indiana. 

DB T.J. Limehouse, Jr., West Florida: The former Armwood standout recorded a team-high 16 tackles in a win over Delta State. 

LB Micah McFadden, Sr., Indiana: The former Plant star recorded eight tackles in a loss to Penn State. 

QB Braxton Plunk, Jr., Mount Union: The former Plant City standout threw for 313 yards and five touchdowns in a win over Otterbein. 

QB Tyler Riddell, Fr., East Tennessee State: The former Chamberlain standout threw for 268 yards and a touchdown in a win over Wofford. 

WR Mike Roussos, Sr., Columbia: The former River Ridge standout averaged 19 yards per kickoff return and 15 yards per punt return in a loss to Princeton. 

RB Deon Silas, Fr., Iowa State: Ran for 30 yards and a touchdown on three carries in a win over Kansas. 

RB Brian Snead, Jr., Austin Peay: The former Armwood standout ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on seven carries in a loss to Tennessee State. 

TE Michael Trigg, Fr., USC: The former Carrollwood Day/Seffner Christian standout had two catches for 51 yards and a touchdown in a win over Colorado. 

RB Treshaun Ward, Fr., FSU: The former Tampa Bay Tech standout accounted for 95 yards (66 rushing, 29 receiving) in a win over Syracuse. 

LB Kee Whetzel, Sr., West Florida: The former Countryside standout recorded 10 tackles and a ½ sack in a win over Delta State. 

WR Mario Williams, Fr., Oklahoma: The former Plant City star had three catches for 29 yards in a win over Kansas State. 

LB Stephon Williams, Jr., West Florida: The former Calvary Christian standout recorded five tackles and 1 ½ sacks in a win over Delta State. 

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Iowa State now a hotspot for local football recruits

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Since arriving at Iowa State five years ago, Matt Campbell has guided the program to four straight bowl appearances, including a Fiesta Bowl win this past season that vaulted the Cyclones to No. 9 in the final AP poll, the highest ranking in school history. 

That success is due in part to the talent accumulated in Florida, especially the Tampa Bay area. 

There are currently five local players on the roster, all of whom were recruited by Campbell’s staff. Anthony Johnson, a former standout at St. Petersburg, starts at cornerback. Two other defensive backs, T.J. Tampa (Lakewood) and Kym-Mani King (Mitchell), should get significant playing time this season. 

It does not end there. 

This offseason Iowa State had perhaps its biggest haul of local talent with three offensive stars — Wiregrass Ranch quarterback Rocco Becht, Tampa Bay Tech receiver Greg Gaines III and Berkeley Prep athlete Xavier Townsend — all committing to the Cyclones as part of the 2022 class.  

Gaines is a four-star recruit while Becht and Townsend are both three-star prospects according to 247Sports. The addition of that trio helped the Cyclones’ current recruiting class rise to No. 5 in the Big 12 and No. 23 nationally. 

The recruiting efforts are not just limited to the staff. Becht, who committed in April, said he tried his best to get more offensive talent from the area to join him. 

“I talked to Greg and Xavier everyday,” Becht said of his recruiting pitch to that duo. “I was on them from the beginning.”

Rocco Becht

Iowa State’s staff also zeroed on those targets — and the area.

“The Tampa Bay area is a huge priority,” said Cyclones assistant head coach/linebackers coach Tyson Veidt, who recruits locally. “Some of our best players are from there and it has helped us develop some all-around continuity.”

Iowa State has a knack for landing playmakers in the bay area, particularly on the defensive side. It started more than a decade ago with linebacker Jeremiah George (Clearwater) and defensive back Leonard Johnson (Largo), both of whom played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their NFL careers. 

There has been even more of an emphasis on the area with Campbell and his staff.

That comes from experience. 

Before taking over the Cyclones, Campbell was an offensive coordinator (2009-11) and head coach (2012-15) at Toledo. During his time with the Rockets, the program landed several prospects from the area, including former Lakewood star Bernard Reedy, who went on to play in the NFL. 

In fact, Campbell had at least one local commit in each of his recruiting classes as Toledo’s head coach. That helped the Rockets rank among the top two recruiting classes in the MAC in three of the four years during Campbell’s tenure. 

The trend has continued at Iowa State. 

And it is having an impact, especially with the camaraderie among locals. 

“Well, of course, the decision was for me and my future as a student athlete,” said Townsend, who committed to the Cyclones on Sunday. “But it was icing on the cake knowing a couple of my boys are coming up with me.”

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College Football

Lakewood’s Amari Niblack commits to Alabama

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Lakewood’s Amari Niblack had offers from 15 schools entering this week, including Florida, Florida State, Georgia and LSU. 

Then Niblack went to a camp at Alabama and picked up an offer from the Crimson Tide. 

That was all the three-star prospect needed to make up his mind. 

On Thursday, Niblack announced on social media that he committed to Alabama. 

A 6-foot-4 pass catching target, Niblack can play receiver or tight end. This past season, he had seven receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns according to the stats listed on MaxPreps. 

This is the second straight season Alabama has landed an area receiver and the third time in the past five seasons the Crimson Tide has picked a local skill player.

Agiye Hall, who starred at Armwood and Bloomingdale, was part of the 2021 class. He was an early enrollee and has already made an impact with several highlight-worthy catches in the spring game. 

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