Top Canadian quarterback recruit J.D. Johnson unretires with medical clearance, enters transfer portal

Photo courtesy: JD Johnson via Twitter

With young prospects like Nathan Rourke and Michael O’Connor already in the CFL and Penn State freshman Christian Veilleux becoming the first Canuck to see meaningful reps under centre for a Power Five school in more than two decades, the future of Canadian quarterbacking is brighter than it has ever been. That outlook only improved on Friday when another highly-touted prospect announced his return to the gridiron.

Former three-star Michigan recruit J.D. Johnson surprised many when he took to Twitter with plans to revive his football career. Once a promising prospect out of Pinnacle High School in Arizona, Johnson was forced to retire in 2020 before ever stepping foot in Ann Arbour after being diagnosed with a heart defect.

At the time, Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh honoured the quarterback’s scholarship and he has served in a non-playing role with the team since, but that will now change after Johnson released the following statement.

“I’m announcing that I am coming out of medical retirement and searching for opportunities to continue my college football career. My experience at the University of Michigan has been unbelievably positive. When I was instructed that I shouldn’t play anymore because of health risks, Coach Harbaugh didn’t hesitate to let me know that he wanted me to be part of the program and that he was going to honor my scholarship. 

This summer, I was reevaluated by a world-renowned cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, who concluded that I should be permitted to play college football. Again, Coach Harbaugh immediately responded with his full support of me exploring options. The character and player priority focus that Coach Harbaugh has is evident to why this team is qualified to play for the national championship.

I am blessed to have been given practice and game day responsibilities to aid in my development. The mentorship I have received from Coach [Josh] Gattis and Coach [Matt] Weiss has not only made me a better person, but a more intelligent/prepared player.

I believe my experiences have expanded my ability to execute on the field. I understand that character and leadership play a big part in the QB position, and my hope is that these traits that I have continued to develop open opportunities next season.”

Checking in at six-foot-four and 215 pounds, Johnson first gained national attention on the Netflix documentary series QB1: Beyond the Lights as the high school backup to five-star Oklahoma recruit Spencer Rattler, then the consensus top quarterback prospect in the 2019 class. Johnson was forced into the lineup when Rattler was suspended for his senior season and would go on to become a promising recruit in his own right.

What many don’t realize is that Johnson actually hails from Vancouver, British Columbia. The son of Dave Johnson, a former sixth round draft pick of the B.C. Lions who served as the head football coach of Simon Fraser University from 2007 to 2013, JD began his football playing days with Westside Warriors Minor Football in the Kitsilano area. It wasn’t until his father took a job at Arizona Christian University that the family migrated south of the border.

Coming out of high school, Johnson turned down offers from Arizona, Oregon, Oregon State, South Carolina, Texas A&M and others to commit to Michigan, but will now enter the transfer portal in search of a playing opportunity with starter Cade McNamara and five-star freshman J.J. McCarthy already entrenched with the Wolverines. If he can attract meaningful interest after two years without putting on a helmet, Johnson will be another name to add to the growing list of Canadian quarterbacks with a chance to break the glass ceiling of pro football.

Regardless, Johnson will be on the sideline in his student assistant role come New Year’s Eve, when No. 2 ranked Michigan takes on No. 3 Georgia in their College Football Playoff Semi-Final.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.