Passing on baseball
Florida's Johnson may switch to football full-time
Posted: Wednesday December 30, 1998 06:47 PM
MIAMI (AP) -- Florida quarterback Doug Johnson insists he won't decide whether to keep pursuing baseball until after the Orange Bowl. Listening to him, though, leaves the distinct impression he'll be concentrating on football this summer.
"I want to close the book out here at Florida and I want to do it right," said Johnson, who will lead the seventh-ranked Gators against No. 18 Syracuse in Saturday night's game. "I want to bring championships back like it used to be."
If Johnson devotes the summer to football, it will be the first time in his life he will have done so.
A second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays out of high school, he spent the summers of 1996 and '97 playing rookie-league baseball. He had to forsake both sports last summer while recovering from rotator-cuff surgery.
Now with just one more season to fulfill the promise he showed as heir apparent to Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, Johnson may be ready to leave baseball on the back burner.
"It'll be two summers since I've been down there," Johnson said. "I don't see why I should go down there and struggle hitting the curveball for two months instead of staying here and keeping with what I've got going on here."
That echoes what Gators coach Steve Spurrier has been trying to tell the strong-armed junior for some time.
"I think you'll notice almost all the quarterbacks at Division I colleges that throw the ball a lot spend most of the summer throwing passes, watching tape, trying to really understand their offense and what to do," Spurrier said.
Johnson is in his second tour of duty as Florida's No. 1 quarterback. He opened last season as the starter, but was benched after being intercepted six times in losses to LSU and Georgia.
Johnson began 1998 alternating plays with sophomore Jesse Palmer, but got the starting job back when Palmer broke his collarbone against LSU. He wound up throwing for 2,346 yards with 19 touchdowns and just eight interceptions, ranking 19th nationally in passing efficiency.
"I think Doug can be a great quarterback," receiver Travis McGriff said. "I think that if he works on it, he'll have a huge year next year. So much of this offense has to do with your head. You have so much to think about."
Just how much better could Johnson be with a full summer of football? The Gainesville native appears willing to find out.
"I don't know. I'll let you know after this summer," he said. "Hopefully a lot. I've never had the chance to throw the football all summer. In minor-league baseball, you spend all summer on the road and play every day of the week. You get worn out by the time you get back."
Johnson, a third baseman, once ranked as high as the Devil Rays' third-best prospect according to Baseball America magazine. But he has struggled during his limited time in the minors.
In 1996, he hit .231 with one home run and nine RBIs in 28 games at St. Petersburg of the Gulf Coast League. That was followed by a .201 season with four homers and 19 RBIs in 34 games at Princeton (West Virginia) of the Appalachian League.
Tom Foley, the Devil Rays' director of minor-league operations, said he has yet to hear from Johnson. Unlike some two-sport prospects, Johnson won't have to repay any of his $400,000 signing bonus if he does not report.
Regardless of how Johnson plays against Syracuse, he said that would not influence his eventual decision.
"It's going to be a tough decision, one that I'll make after the game," Johnson said. "Right now, I want to concentrate on this game."
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