Oregon's Johnathan Loyd goes from hoops to CFB title game

DALLAS -- When Oregon takes the field against Ohio State on Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, it will do so with the winningest senior class in school history -- along with the winningest basketball player in school history as well.

While Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, All-American center Hroniss Grasu and stud defensive linemen Arik Armstead will draw the lion's share of attention in the the game, wide receiver Johnathan Loyd might end up an unlikely contributor to what the team hopes is the school's first-ever college football national title.

A year ago at this time, Loyd was dishing out assists and sinking 3's as the starting point guard on the Oregon hoops team. Now, with the absence of fellow receivers Darren Carrington and Devon Allen, the 5-foot-8, 160 pound former hard court star could see an increase in playing time on football's grandest stage.

"It's been night and day from the beginning to now. I feel much more comfortable as a football player," Loyd said this week. "Our standard is making sure the next man up is ready to go and everybody is going to step their game up.

"Words can't describe it. This is so special.

Loyd joined the football team before spring practices last year after wrapping up a productive four-year career in basketball that saw him tally 97 career victories and finish fifth in the record books in assists. The NCAA allows players who have exhausted their four years of eligibility in one sport to get a waiver to play an extra season in another. In doing so, Loyd follows in the footsteps of only a handful of others, including former Duke star turned Syracuse quarterback Greg Paulus five years ago.

None, however, has taken a snap in the college football championship game.

"I was kind of thinking about it, but I didn't really know. So I met with the coaches and watched practice, and I got the itch when I got on the field," Loyd said of when he decided to play football. "I had never played receiver before, so that's the only thing I really doubted myself about. In high school, I could just use my athleticism. With these guys, I have to use good technique in order to be effective."

Loyd was welcomed with open arms by his new teammates on the gridiron and provided a boost to a young receiving corps that ended up losing No. 1 option Bralon Addison to an ACL tear that same spring. Fellow receiver and good friend Keanon Lowe was the driving force behind Loyd's move into the game and has been mentoring him ever since to teach him the ins and outs of the fast-paced Oregon offense.

"We've been friends for a longtime, and we were roommates for a couple of years as well. I've been in his ear for four years and finally, that fifth year, he decided to come out and play, and I'm happy he did," said Lowe. "He's a competitor. Any time you can add another winner like that, it's great for our team."

Loyd has appeared in nine games this season, catching four passes for 19 yards and a touchdown. His biggest contribution has been on special teams though, with his quickness for attacking the hoop translating well to getting around big men as a punt returner. He figures to back up true freshman Charles Nelson at the position against the Buckeyes and could see snaps in the game as a slot receiver depending on the situation.

A senior, Loyd figures to be playing in his final football game Monday regardless, with a likely move overseas to play basketball professionally once school is over. Still, his speed and shiftiness could translate to the next level, and he's not ruling out a run at playing in the NFL if given the opportunity.

"In my head, I'm back to the basketball court. But if somebody was to ask me about football (in the NFL) after this, I'd entertain it," Loyd said. "For right now, that's not on my mind though."

With a shot at the national championship Monday, it's no surprise to hear Loyd say he's focused on that before moving on to figure out his dreams of playing professionally.

You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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