FONTANA, Calif. -- In the passing league circuit, Keyshawn Johnson Jr. wears the same number that his father made famous at USC two decades ago. He lines up at receiver, a position his father played in the NFL for 11 years, and made noise in recent weeks by bursting onto the scene with seven early scholarship offers, most notably from Florida State and Ohio State.
Yet, despite the buzz that comes along with being Keyshawn Johnson’s son, the Class of 2017 prospect wants his own identity.
“I don’t want to be in my dad’s shadow for the rest of my life,” Johnson said. “I want my own name.”
Johnson was on a different path not long ago. The 6-foot, 180-pound athlete starred in basketball, shining for the Southern California All-Stars in the AAU circuit before giving up the sport. Though an alternate road could have been refreshing for someone looking to distance himself from gridiron expectations, Johnson felt something tugging at his heart.
“What made me focus on this sport instead is that we’re a football family,” Johnson said at the Passing Down Elite 7on7 Southern California Regional last weekend. “I have a cousin, Michael Thomas, at Ohio State and my dad, obviously. I just want to be the next generation, but at the same time I want to be myself.
“I don’t want to be known as Keyshawn Johnson’s son. I want to be known as Keyshawn Johnson Jr.”
Arizona State, Miami, SMU, Tennessee and Utah are the five other schools on Johnson’s offer sheet to go along with the Buckeyes and Seminoles. Interest in the sophomore-to-be only figures to rise as he drops by the Clemson, Ohio State and Texas camps this summer.
Johnson, who competes with ESPN Junior 300 members Desean Holmes and Stanley Norman for touches on Team 19 in passing tournaments, said he is feeling good about the recruiting process, especially given that the sudden momentum caught him by surprise.
“I haven’t even played a varsity down,” said Johnson, wearing a No. 3 jersey with his father's logo plastered on the chest. “It’s crazy because I have the opportunity to go Division I. I feel good about that. I’m really happy.”
A recent stop at USC, where his father was twice recognized as a consensus first-team All-American, opened Johnson’s eyes about the pace of college practices. He said he doesn’t feel the pressure from his family to follow in his father’s footsteps, describing USC as “just another school” in the process.
“I understand my father went there,” said Johnson, who is enrolled at Mission Viejo (Calif.) High School, a known pipeline school for the Trojans. “I just want to explore my options. I don’t want USC to be the only school I’m interested in.”
Though the bloodlines may be undeniable, the father has no plans to let his son coast.
“He’s not a trust fund baby,” Keyshawn Sr. said. “He’s going to work for everything."