- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

The pass fluttered through the air after being tipped, and Corey Johnson was there, swooping in to collect the interception and sprint toward the end zone.

For someone who hasn’t played football in four years, Johnson looked right at home.

Johnson has spent the past three seasons as a guard on Navy’s basketball team, starting all but two of the games he played in. He started all 30 this season, finishing fifth on the team in points and second in assists.

But Johnson was a two-sport star at Highland High School in Anderson, Ind., and earned all-state football honors as a junior and a senior. He decided to give up basketball and join the football team for his final year in Annapolis and participated in the team’s first spring practice Monday.

“It was just that I wanted to graduate and not regret anything,” said Johnson, who received partial scholarship offers from Purdue and Indiana to play football. “I wanted to at least give football a chance at least one year because if I didn’t I was probably going to regret the rest of my life, and I just didn’t want to.”

This wasn’t the first time Johnson thought about playing football in Annapolis. He said Navy coach Paul Johnson contacted him after he spent a year at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., to see whether he wanted to give football a try.

After a meeting with Navy basketball coach Billy Lange, he decided to concentrate on basketball. Now Johnson, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 192 pounds, will take a shot at dishing out hits from his safety position instead of passes.

“Our entire [basketball] team is coming back, so some people probably think I am crazy for doing it, but I didn’t want to regret at least giving it a shot,” Johnson said. “I was hoping to still play basketball because those guys have been my family for three, two, one year. You live and breathe with them.”

He wanted to play football this coming fall and then rejoin his basketball mates in January, but Lange said no.

Johnson got to put on a helmet for his first practice Monday, but the team won’t be in full gear until tomorrow. The big question is can a guy who hasn’t played football in so long contribute in the one season he has?

“I think I can still do this,” Johnson said. “It might take me some time to shake the rust off, but it is kind of like riding a bike. It is going to be a lot faster here, but the basics are the same. You don’t really forget.”

For now, Johnson is third on the depth chart at free safety behind classmate Jeff Deliz, who was the team’s nickel back last season, and rising sophomore Jesse Iwuji, who also could see time at cornerback.

Coach Johnson praised him for his work in recent offseason workouts, though he did note many of the drills are well-suited for a guy who had just spent the past few months playing basketball.

“We won’t know a whole lot about Corey until we get the pads on,” he said. “I don’t expect him to shy away. He doesn’t seem to have that personality to me. I think he’s a pretty aggressive kid. Now, does he have the skills after not playing for football for [four] years? We will have to see.”

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