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Becoming a Bearcat

Triple-Threat, Zay Johnson fulfills his commitment to Cincinnati


A rowdy middle schooler who came to the high school “and turned everything around,” according to his coach, Zay Johnson signed a paper and was handed a diploma on the same day.

Johnson signed his National Letter of Intent fulfilling his earlier commitment to attend and play football for the University of Cincinnati last Tuesday, minutes after he and six other Clinton High seniors participated in the school’s first-ever Winter Commencement.

Johnson is Red Devil Football’s first Shrine Bowl participant since 1992. The South team that he was a member of shut out the North, 24-0, something in which a defensive back like Johnson can take great pride.

“Everything is happening really fast for him,” Clinton High Football Head Coach Corey Fountain said. “It seems like it was just yesterday he was a bobble head 8th grader, lifting weights and getting in trouble at middle school. Then, he comes to the high school and turns everything around … we appreciate his family and his coaches.”

Fountain said with Zay, he was in the unique position of “recruiting my own player.”

He said Tommy Spangler, now a defensive backs coach at Furman, called one day to say, “I got a kid over at camp, he’s special, he’s going to go to another school.”

“I told (Zay), stay here, be great here, and that’s what he did,” Fountain said. Johnson and his fellow seniors “set the standard — we want to set that standard as football players; we want to be someone (that) everybody looks up to, someone everybody wants to be like and, Zay, that’s our challenge to you: go out and be great. All our coaching staff is only a phone call away if you need us to go up to Cincy to help you be great.” 

“First of all, I want to thank God, without Him I wouldn’t be here now. I want to thank my family and coaches, and the other college coaches for helping me,” Johnson said. “I had an amazing four years at CHS and, with that being said, for the next three to four years I’m taking my talents to the University of Cincinnati. Go Bearcats!”

Johnson said he will play defense for Kerry Coombs at Cincinnati. But he gave a slight smile when asked about offense, or playing both ways - these are his 2023 stats as a Red Devil: Receiving, 26 catches for 504 yards, 9 TDs, 51 yards longest catch, 42 yards/game; 5 punt returns for 109 yards, 21.8 average, 54 yards longest; 15 kick returns for 327 yards, 1 TD, 21.8 yards/return, 88 yards longest; and 3 interceptions.

Cincinnati was 3-9 last season entering the Big 12 under head coach Scott Satterfield, and Coombs is the special teams and cornerbacks coach (he was Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, 2020-21).

Zay is not going to play offense - he is committed to defense. But - just in case he want some after-practice route-running just to remember his high school days - he might want to look up this guy when he takes the field at Cincy. The Bearcats just signed Brandon Sorsby (Denton, Texas), who passed for 1,587 yards and 15 TDs as a redshirt freshman at Indiana and was a 7-game starter. He threw for 289 yards v. Illinois and 269 yards v. Penn State in Big 10 action.

Johnson said he stuck by his commitment to Cincinnati because their coaches stuck by him. “Some of the coaches are from South Carolina, so they can relate to me, and it’s not that far away (7 hours),” Zay said. 

He told a WSPA-TV interviewer, “I’m just happy to make my parents proud. This is an amazing school, the teachers, the janitor, the lunch ladies, they all took care of me. I was smiling (when he received his diploma) but it kind of hurts to be leaving CHS.”

Zay said a favorite memory is his 10th grade season when he was on varsity and the other DBs worked with him. He acknowledged he was an 8th grade  troublemaker, but “right now, I have my high school diploma. Don’t never let nobody tell you what you can’t do. If you put in the work, you can do anything.”

What Cincinnati’s signing site says,

Zaravion Johnson, position: CB class: Freshman high school: Clinton High School Ht.Wt.: 6-3/180 hometown: Clinton S.C.


Early enrollee...Consensus three-star recruit who is rated as a Top 25 prospect in South Carolina for the 2024 Class...Ranked among the Top 100 cornerback prospects by ESPN...Named to the 2023 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas All-Star Game...Starred on offense, defense and as a kick and punt returner for Clinton High School...Chose UC over offers from Virginia and Liberty, among several teams.


CINCINNATI – Cincinnati football head coach Scott Satterfield announced the Bearcats’s Early Signing Day additions for the 2024 Class last Wednesday.

Cincinnati inked 21 high school prospects in addition to eight college transfers during the transfer portal window.

Led by four-star quarterback Samaj Jones (Philadelphia, Pa. / St. Joseph’s Prep), the Bearcats will welcome 10 early enrollees from the high school ranks next month.

Cincinnati Taft defensive back Quinton Price highlights five signees from the state of Ohio, including a pair of tight ends in Gavin Grover (Lewis Center / Olentangy) and Devyn Zahursky (Berea / Midpark) as well as record-breaking running back Jakorion Caffey (Avon) and offensive lineman Jake Wheelock (Dayton / Stebbins) – the first commitment in the 2024 Class.

Wheelock, Grover and Zahursky will join Jones as mid-year enrollees. They will be joined by speedy Georgia wide receivers Dakarai Anderson (Perry, Ga. / Perry) and Kale Woodburn (Warner Robins, Ga. / Houston County).

Four-star cornerback Daniel James (Powder Springs, Ga. / McEachern) also highlights the class. He is rated the No. 18 cornerback recruit in the country and among the nation’s Top 300 prospects by On3 and 247Sports. 

Rounding out the Early Signing Day class were eight transfers, who were already announced.

“I’m glad today’s finally here,” Satterfield said. “Recruiting has been a long journey this past season. When you think about all these high school players, we started off with over 1000 of them back when we first got here trying to recruit this class and to get narrowed down to this group right here is special. We have 21 high school recruits who are going to come in and be part of our family now. We’re extremely excited about that.

“We have several players from the state of Ohio. We want to start right here in the city of Cincinnati and work within that three to four-hour radius all the way up through our state. We are really proud of this state of how good the high school football is and how great the high school coaches do. They do an absolutely great job, some of the best in the country, in coaching their players in high school and developing them. When they when they get to college they’re ready to go.”