No offseason: Dominic Johnson spends spring on hardwood, fall on turf
UB athlete balances playing for two of UB’s Division-I squads
Dominic Johnson wears two numbers for UB.
He throws bullets to his teammates at UB Stadium as No. 9 in the fall.
And in the spring, he’s a secret weapon in Alumni Arena, sporting No. 21 and using his 6-foot-5-inch, 210-pound stature to put up some jumpers.
Johnson isn’t indecisive. He doesn’t seem exhausted, either. But since 2017, he’s managed to balance his time between two of UB’s most successful squads: football and basketball.
“[High school coaches] told me I eventually had to pick one going into college,” Johnson said. “I did pick one, I picked football. But now they’re dual things. I try to keep all doors open.”
Very few college players have been able to appear on both their school’s football and basketball rosters, some being Donovan McNabb at Syracuse University, Terrell Owens at UT Chattanooga and Julius Peppers at North Carolina University. But the Ontario native wasn’t aware of the big names that accomplished the same feat, he’s just focused on his role on each individual team and his focus shifts when each season rolls around. This season, although he didn’t make the cut to start in UB’s recent games as a quarterback, he plans on being a key player off the bench, and even as a receiver, for the football team.
Johnson was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba with football in his blood. His father, NFL player Nathaniel Johnson, was part of the reason he grew up with football as a first priority and Johnson remembers watching games in his basement.
At age six, he moved to Ontario, and around the fifth or sixth grade he discovered his love for basketball. His “ball-is-life” mentality provided him with a future career goal: making the NBA. From that point on, his childhood bedroom had posters of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and the rest of the greats plastered on the walls.
His love for football wasn’t completely diminished, however, and Canadian Football League posters could still be seen by his bedside. Other sports also caught his attention, and as he got older, off seasons stopped existing.
He’d constantly cycle through track season, football season and basketball season.
“I was used to always running around, always doing something. Even if it was cold outside, I’d get outside and try to do something.”
When he enrolled in high school at Catholic Central in Windsor, he joined with the intention of playing basketball after hearing of the program’s success. He later noticed the community involvement of the school’s football program and knew he had to get involved.
“Every year after, it was both,” Johnson said. “At the end of football season, that’s when basketball season started.”
Former men’s basketball head coach Nate Oats recruited Johnson when he was still in high school, as he was a close friend of Johnson’s high school basketball coach.
Johnson remembers attending a UB game and hearing promises from basketball coaches who wanted to recruit him, but an offer never came out of it. He didn’t see coming to UB for basketball as a possibility.
He later chose to attend UB as a football commit. When basketball players like Brock Bertram were hurt after Johnson’s redshirt freshman season in 2017, Oats opened his offer back up.
“He was kind of like, ‘We need some help. I remember you. Want to come play for the team?’”
Johnson, who occasionally throws a football around during basketball practice, says his teammates on both teams joke around, but are overall very supportive about his commitment to each sport.
He says shooting a basketball keeps the “touch” on his arm, and that same touch is often necessary to throw a football. Before UB’s addition of the Murchie Family Fieldhouse, Johnson found it hard to throw a football in the winter, and his commitment to the basketball team helped keep him hot during the cold months.
“It’s super tough. There’s a lot of stuff that you have to sacrifice. A normal athlete might have a little hobby. There’s been a lot of late-night library nights because I couldn’t get the work done during the day or a lot of times where everybody wanted to go out and I was like, ‘I can’t because I need to sleep.’ But if you want that, that’s what you have to do.”
Head football coach Lance Leipold commended Johnson on his work ethic and drive after an early practice this season.
“I find ways to get Dominic Johnson on the field,” Leipold said. “I can’t say enough great things about Dominic and his leadership, his competitiveness, he’s a team player. And his thing was, ‘Coach, I’ve been in this program for years and I want to find a way to get on the field and help.’”
Two games into the season, Leipold found ways. Johnson appeared on the field at Beaver Stadium during Saturday’s Penn State game, as the QB-turned-receiver caught three passes and racked in 27 receiving yards, with his longest catch being for 12.
Johnson says, while he hopes to do everything in his ability to earn UB wins, he really wants to repeat a Mid-American Conference Championship appearance.
“Our biggest goal is to just win games, be consistent. Get back to the MAC Championship with our team. I want to just do everything I can in my power to help the team get to that point again.”
Brenton J. Blanchet is the editor-in-chief and can be reached at Brenton.Blanchet@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @BrentonBlanchet.