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University quarterback Conner Johnson has moved into second place on the all-time GSL single-season passing list. (Jesse Tinsley)

U-Hi quarterback Johnson blossoms in short time

F acebook can be a mean social  media tool sometimes.

Just ask University senior Conner Johnson, who two years after transferring from Gonzaga Prep to University is still called a traitor by anonymous writers from time to time.

It took a while for the 6-foot-5, 220-pound quarterback to find his way at University, but he’s blossomed magnificently this year.

“I don’t regret it (transferring),” he said. “It’s working for me.”

Johnson transferred for not just athletic reasons but academic reasons as well.

“It was a very emotional decision within my family because we loved Prep so much,” Johnson said. “It came down to I had an opportunity to come to a school where I didn’t have to be on any waiting lists for AP (advanced placement) classes and I could play quarterback along with some other personal issues.”

Johnson agonized over the decision after his sophomore year, not starting the transfer process until late June – well after U-Hi had had its summer team camp.

“In all honesty I love Prep and still love Prep,” Johnson said. “I still have good relationships with friends, coaches and teachers there.”

He saw a few of them last weekend when he helped coach a seventh- and eighth-grade parochial football team.

Johnson was going to start at wingback or tight end and would have been the backup quarterback at G-Prep last year had he stayed. And hindsight being what it is, he would have become the starting QB by the second game when Shane Schmidlkofer suffered a separated shoulder.

“I was content with what my role was going to be (at Prep),” Johnson said.

Still, he decided to leave – and he didn’t have far to go. He lives near 32nd and Dishman, a football throw from U-Hi.

Johnson was behind the learning curve last year. As soon as he decided to transfer, he contacted Titans coach Bill Diedrick.

“He started teaching me concepts,” Johnson said. “Coach ‘D’ got me caught up really quickly.”

Johnson shared time initially with a senior, Jeff Moe, a transfer from Central Valley.

“We didn’t have him for team or summer camp, so we started out very slow with him,” Diedrick said. “We gave him a limited package and tried to expand that a little bit as he got more and more comfortable.”

Johnson had a rough game against G-Prep.

“If anything could go wrong, it did,” Diedrick said. “A lot of it was him probably being so overly emotional in the game. It taught him a big lesson. It was a great learning game.”

Johnson performed well the following week against CV.

“We decided it was time to grow with him,” Diedrick said. “Once we made that decision, he got more and more comfortable each week.”

His biggest strides, though, came last spring and summer. He headed to school three times a week at 6:30 a.m. to work one-on-one with Diedrick on footwork and mechanics.

“He really had an outstanding summer,” Diedrick said. “It raised a lot of eyebrows.”

It carried over to this season. Last week, Johnson moved past Mark Rypien to second on the Greater Spokane League’s all-time single-season passing list. He’s completed 127 of 209 passes for 1,989 yards. If he throws for 267 yards in the Titans’ league finale tonight against Mead, he will move ahead of Conner Halliday (2,255).

“It’s a real honor to go past Mark Rypien,” Johnson said. “I’ve known who he is the majority of my life and looked up to him.”

Johnson thought he could have a big impact for U-Hi this season.

“Not solely on my abilities, but I knew I had a very talented group of receivers who have done a great job this year,” Johnson said. “With those kinds of athletes on the field, it’s always possible to have a dream-like season.”

Johnson’s mind won’t be on the record tonight.

“It’s going to be a fun test against Mead. They’re a great team,” Johnson said. “I’m far more concerned with getting a win than getting a record.”

The University of Montana and Idaho have been in frequent contact this fall, but Johnson doesn’t have an offer.

Diedrick, who spent the majority of his career coaching in college, sees a collegiate future for Johnson.

“Recruiting now is done when they’re juniors and he didn’t have that good of a junior year,” Diedrick said. “And he wasn’t with us at camp as a junior. He’ll be a good find for somebody. He’s a big kid with a strong arm. He’s very intelligent. He’s got such an upside. Look at what he’s done basically in a year. His best growth and development are ahead of him.”