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Bowling Green quarterback not short on confidence

| Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, 10:36 p.m.
BGSU Athletics
Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson ranks No. 22 in the nation with 3,159 passing yards.

Coaches don't often admit their mistakes, but this time Greg Schiano had to come clean.

It was the night of Nov. 29, and Schiano, the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, glanced at the television showing Bowling Green playing against Buffalo.

Although his mind was fixed on the Buccaneers' problems, Schiano was fascinated with Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson.

When he was coach at Rutgers, Schiano had little interest in Johnson, who was a star at Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg. Yet, while watching Johnson lead Bowling Green to a big victory, he picked up his phone and sent a text message to Bishop McDevitt coach Jeff Weachter.

“You were right,” Schiano wrote. “Matt is a great player, a gutsy kid and a great leader. I should have taken him at Rutgers.”

Weachter smiled because he said he has received other such admissions from Division I coaches who liked Johnson until they stood next to him.

At 6-foot, Johnson didn't measure up to certain standards college coaches hold for their quarterback recruits.

“If he was two inches taller, he would have had an offer from everybody in the country,” Weachter said.

Only Bowling Green and Temple offered Johnson a scholarship, but none of that matters now.

Johnson, who is eighth on Pennsylvania's all-time passing list with 7,959 yards, has led Bowling Green (10-3) to the Mid-American Conference championship and a date with Pitt on Dec. 26 in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl in Detroit.

Two coaching staffs ago, Pitt was among those schools that largely ignored Johnson, triggering a tweet from him the night Bowling Green received its bowl bid.

“Please be Pitt,” he wrote before the Panthers were the known opponent. “Remember when I was too short to play for you.”

Weachter said former Pitt assistant Brian Angelichio “was a big believer in (Johnson).”

But Pitt and other Big East schools were recruiting Gary Nova, a New Jersey quarterback who ended up at Rutgers, where he is 71st in Division I this season with 2,159 passing yards. Johnson is 22nd with 3,159.

“Nova is two inches taller, but he doesn't have the pocket presence Matt does,” Weachter said.

Johnson committed to Bowling Green five months before Pitt fired Dave Wannstedt. Todd Graham, who was Wannstedt's successor at Pitt, settled on another 6-foot quarterback: Trey Anderson, a familiar face from Texas who has played sparingly the past three seasons.

Johnson said he is happy at Bowling Green but admits, “I guess I play with a little chip on my shoulder.

“I had a lot of schools that came in and watched me throw. They told me they liked my feet, they liked the way I threw the ball. My arm strength was great. Everything was fine, except I wasn't 6-3 or 6-2.”

Weachter, who runs one of the state's top programs and finished as the PIAA Class AAA runner-up this year, has sent several top players to major-college programs, including Pitt's LeSean McCoy and Ohio State's Noah Spence.

“I have coached some great players,” he said. “I'm not sure Matt isn't the most competitive kid I ever coached. Matt wants to be the best in everything.”

This season, Johnson, a sophomore, won the starting job in the third series of the first game from three-year starter Matt Schilz. Bowling Green beat Tulsa, 34-7, and Johnson never lost the job.

“It was more amazing to outsiders, the people who didn't see us every day,” Johnson said of winning the job. “The team knew about the competition, knew it was going to come down to whoever the better guy was.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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