Coming out of high school, Jay Johnson was good enough in the eyes of Lou Holtz to play football at Notre Dame.
Johnson signed with Notre Dame after playing on back-to-back undefeated state championship teams at Starkville High School, and went on to letter as a receiver from 1997-2000.
Nine years after donning the gold helmet of the Irish, Johnson again is good enough in the eyes of Holtz to represent Notre Dame on the football field.
The 31-year old Johnson, a 1996 graduate of Starkville High, has been chosen by Holtz as one of 60 former Notre Dame players who will make up an alumni team that will travel to Tokyo, Japan, to play the Japanese National Team.
“It”s a great honor,” Johnson said. “It”s another opportunity for me to put on the gold helmet and go out and represent the tradition of Notre Dame. I”m going to try to help keep the winning tradition going. I know the past couple of years they”ve had some up-and-down seasons, but it”s still Notre Dame, and it”s still the greatest place to play college football in my opinion.”
Holtz will coach the alumni team that will play July 25 at the Tokyo Dome.
The team will conduct training camp July 17-19 and then leave for Tokyo to prepare for the game.
Japan is celebrating its 75th year of football, making the game against Notre Dame an anniversary game.
“They”re going to put together a great team, and we”ve done the same thing, so it should be a good game,” Johnson said.
In addition to Johnson, the Notre Dame legends team will include national championship winning quarterback Tony Rice, Notre Dame all-time leading rusher Autry Denson, and All-America center Tim Ruddy.
Johnson was chosen for the team after participating in a tryout on the Notre Dame campus the weekend of Notre Dame”s spring Blue-Gold game on April 18.
It will be the second time Johnson will go out of the country. The first also was courtesy of Notre Dame when it played Navy in Ireland.
“It will be great to go there and experience their culture and just see a different perspective of life,” Johnson said.
Johnson caught 15 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns at Notre Dame. He had his best season as a junior in 1999 when he caught six passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
“That was one of the best times of my life,” Johnson said of playing at Notre Dame. “All of my memories aren”t the greatest, but like with anything in life there are ups and downs. There”s nothing like the pride you feel when you wear that gold helmet and you”re down in that tunnel ready to come out for a game on Saturday.”
Johnson lives in South Bend, Ind., with his wife, Emily, and sons Tyler, 11, and Jason, 6. His wife is from South Bend.
He teaches at Dickinson Fine Arts Academy, a middle school, and is a football coach at Washington High School in South Bend. He primarily coaches the wide receivers, but also works with the quarterbacks and defensive backs.
“It”s fairly new to me,” Johnson said of coaching. “This will be my second year. Last year we were 7-3 and the year before they were 0-10. We”re trying to change the expectations and raise the standards. We”re trying to develop them into formidable young men.”
Before going to Tokyo, Johnson will return to Starkville on Thursday and help Friday and Saturday at Starkville High”s football camp.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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