PROSPECT — Western Kentucky rising senior Justin Johnson will join the football program for the 2017 season and be on a football scholarship, WKU football coach Mike Sanford and basketball coach Rick Stansbury confirmed Monday.
“He wants to follow that (George) Fant blueprint," Stansbury said. "If that can work for him, hey, we all need to try it. He says he’s a real good football player so I guess we’ll see soon.”
Johnson has two years of eligibility remaining with the football program. Fant spent one season with WKU football after a four-year basketball career and is now the starting left tackle for the Seattle Seahawks in the National Football League.
Western now has six tight ends on the current roster in Johnson, redshirt-senior Deon Yelder, redshirt-junior Mik'Quan Deane, redshirt-freshman Kyle Fourtenbary and freshmen Kyle Leach and Steven Witchoskey.
“We’re really just excited about just finding different ways to get (Johnson) involved and utilize what’s natural to him. He’s not gonna be able to pick up the entirety of the position in several months time," Sanford said. "We’re gonna utilize his special and unique gifts which are hard to find. They’re hard to come by. That size, that competitiveness at this stage of his career, being a guy that’s going into his senior year academically at WKU.
“We’re excited to see what he can do. We’re gonna play it day-by-day like we have been. The one thing that really did stand out to me is his pass-catching ability. He’s a soft-handed, natural pass catcher, which you didn’t know until you got a chance to see him catch that ball.”
From Hazard and a second team all-Conference USA selection in 2016-17, Johnson has played in 97 games in three seasons with WKU, averaging 11.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. His 24 career double-doubles is second only to Chris Marcus' modern record of 38.
He joined the football team in the spring and worked at tight end before an injury sidelined him for the remainder of workouts.
“One thing that we saw with Justin in the time that we spent with him throughout spring ball was he’s got very natural, soft hands," Sanford said. "He’s a natural pass-catcher. He obviously has a tremendous frame. He’s got the ability to go up and get the football, just like he’s been going up on the glass and getting rebounds for years."
Johnson could rejoin the basketball team as a walk-on after the Hilltoppers' football season concludes in either December or January.
“I’ll never tell a person not to do something. All I can do is point out, from experiences, what I think is best and probably what I’d advise my own children to do," Stansbury said. "Those are the things I would point out. But you always make the decision on what you think is best for you.
“It wasn’t something I said, ‘Nah, I’m not gonna let you do it.’ I laid out some pluses and minuses. Again, I know nothing about Justin’s ability to play football. I’ve never seen that. If he’s as good as he says he is, then it could turn out to be a great opportunity for him.”
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop