Michigan honors scholarship to Phoenix QB sidelined by heart ailment

Nov 9, 2019, 4:25 AM | Updated: 3:50 pm

PHOENIX – J.D. Johnson’s football career may be over, but that won’t keep him from rooting for his high school team as it begins the state playoffs, and it won’t keep the University of Michigan from honoring the scholarship it offered him.

Johnson, a quarterback at Pinnacle High School, announced Oct. 30 that he no longer can play football due to a heart ailment. The Arizona native and three-star prospect in the class of 2020 said a recent medical evaluation revealed that a heart condition first diagnosed when he was 12 can’t be corrected by surgery.

The condition, called coarctation of the aorta, initially was thought to be treatable, but upon further evaluation, doctors found complications that would make playing a contact sport a serious risk to Johnson’s health.

The news was eased by the Wolverines’ support of him.

Tosh Baker (79), Adam Verbalatis (57) and Clay Zupke (24) walk down the field with J.D. Johnson (10) during their home game against the Boulder Creek Jaguars. (Photo by Cassidy McCauley/Cronkite News)

“It meant so much to me just knowing that coach (Jim) Harbaugh believes in me like that,” Johnson said Friday. “Just the loyalty that I see from him is unbelievable and I really appreciate it.”

Johnson was a backup turned starter for a powerhouse Pinnacle team that produced quarterbacks Brian Lewerke (Michigan State) and Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma) in the past five years. Johnson started for nearly two seasons.

The news hit his coaches and teammates hard.

“The meeting when J.D. addressed the team, there was a lot of tears and a lot of hugs. I mean the love that was in our room it was overwhelming,” Pinnacle coach Dana Zupke said. “J.D. means so much to this team and the kids ached for him. He’s one of their brothers.”

Johnson was overwhelmed by his team’s reaction.

“It’s been unbelievable,” he said. “I knew that they were going to be there for me, and just the love and support that they’ve given me has really helped me through this.”

Despite the recent news, Harbaugh assured Johnson his scholarship would be honored.

In a tweet, Johnson wrote, “There is NO BETTER place to be a college football player then ANN ARBOR! Coach Harbaugh, I promise I will make the opportunity you have given me count!”

Although his playing career almost assuredly has ended, Johnson plans to attend Michigan and be a part of the football program in some capacity.

“I asked him, ‘What’s next? What are you going to do?’” Zupke said. “I think he’s going to get his feet wet pretty early in the coaching thing, and I think J.D. would make a fine coach.”

Johnson and Pinnacle had high hopes when the season began. The Pioneers (8-2) still do, but they’ll have to adjust to a significant change as backup quarterback Devon Dampier leads them against Salpointe Catholic in the Open Division quarterfinals in Tucson on Nov. 15.

“You know we want to play the Chandlers, the Salpointes, the Saguaros and stuff like that, and show ’em what we got,” Johnson said. “We think that we have a good team, and can go compete with those guys.”

Lifetime Windows & Doors

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(Attorney General Mark Brnovich's Office Photo)...

Man sentenced to 6.5 years in prison for trafficking methamphetamine in Arizona

A man was sentenced to six and a half years in prison for his role in trafficking methamphetamine in Arizona, officials said. 
1 day ago
(Phoenix Police Department Photo)...

Weekend wrap-up: Here are the biggest Arizona stories from Sept. 23-25

Police find more fentanyl, Scottsdale tells HOAs they can't require overseeding and these Phoenix restaurants were highlighted this week.
1 day ago
(AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)...

Honduras man charged with high-speed flight from Arizona immigration checkpoint

An 18-year-old man from Honduras was charged with high-speed flight from an immigration checkpoint last week, authorities said. 
1 day ago
FILE - Family members and friends march seeking justice for the missing 43 Ayotzinapa students in M...
Associated Press

The role the Mexican Army had in the 2014 disappearance of 43 students

The Mexican army’s role in the disappearance of 43 college students and its links to organized crime are at the center of a case.
1 day ago
Tania Estudillo Hernandez. (El Mirage Police Department Photo)...

Woman in El Mirage arrested for managing human smuggling operations

A woman was arrested Friday evening for her role in a human smuggling operation based in El Mirage, authorities said.
1 day ago
(Pixabay Photo)...

Phoenix police shoot, kill man throwing rocks at patrol car

Phoenix police are investigating an officer-involved shooting after a man throwing rocks at a patrol car died Saturday evening.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles


Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Michigan honors scholarship to Phoenix QB sidelined by heart ailment