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QB Khalib Johnson Impressing Early in Louisville's Spring Practice

The true freshman for the Cardinals hasn't been on campus for very long, but he's causing those around him to take note.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Louisville football isn't exactly heading into the 2022 season with a quarterback controversy on their hands.

Last season, Malik Cunningham established himself as one of the top dual-threat signal callers in college football, amassing 3,972 total yards of offense and scoring 39 total touchdowns. He even has Lamar Jackson's career yardage and touchdown records within reasonable grasp.

The only controversy in question at the position, is who will assume the role as Cunningham's backup?

Evan Conley has held a firm grasp at the No. 2 spot on the depth chart since 2019, but had mixed results during the limited reps he saw in 2021. He completed 10 of his 19 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown in five games, but most of that production came in the extended garbage time against Kentucky.

Conley is also having to miss spring ball after having offseason surgery, so the backup reps have been split mainly between JUCO transfer Brock Domann and walk-on Nathan McElroy during spring ball.

But there is a fourth option for the backup quarterback spot for the Cardinals, one who has already started to impress in his limited time on campus: Khalib Johnson.

When Louisville inked 13 high school prospects during the early signing period last November, Johnson was one of just two to sign as an early enrollee, joining offensive lineman Max Cabana.

Even though he was nursing an injury when he first set foot on campus in January, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound true freshman has made every effort to take in the offensive system. Johnson still isn't 100 percent healthy as the Cardinals head into the home stretch for spring ball, but he's making the best of it.

"First of all, he's a phenomenal kid. He is awesome, and we knew that recruiting him," quarterbacks coach Pete Thomas said. "Obviously, he's been a little bit limited right now, but he's been really good. He's picking up the offense. When we were out on the road recruiting in January, he was in here every day meet with the GA's. He's been really good, and he's a very fun kid to coach."

Johnson has not only taken advantage of every opportunity to learn that is presented by the coaching staff, he's also doing the same with the older quarterbacks on the roster. Cunningham and Conley, the two most tenured players in the QB room, have served as role models and teachers for him.

"Sometimes they'll ask questions in meetings, and Conley will just take over and start answering for him. Having those older guys in the room is really good," Thomas said. "Then obviously, Malik being from Alabama, and them kind of knowing each other, all that stuff helps too."

Johnson and Cunningham have used their Yellowhammer State connection as a means to bond with one another during spring ball. Johnson played his high school ball just outside of Birmingham at Clay-Chalkville, while Cunningham did so at Park Crossing in Montgomery. Roughly 120 miles separates the two central Alabama high schools.

"Oh man, that's like my little brother, from Alabama," Cunningham said. "He's coming in, and he's learning quicker than a lot of the freshmen quarterbacks that have come in. We're just trying to get him going so he can be able to compete in (fall) camp."

Johnson certainly has a lot to offer in terms of his skill set. As a senior, he completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 3,271 yards and 40 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, while also leading Clay-Chalkville to the Alabama Class 6A state championship.

Once he and Conley are cleared from their respective injuries, it will make for an interesting backup quarterback battle when fall camp rolls around.

"It'll be a lot of competition come fall," Thomas said.

(Photo of Khalib Johnson via University of Louisville Athletics)

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