Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009 | 1:55 a.m.
Johnathan Loyd is arguably the top high school basketball player in Las Vegas.
The senior point guard led Bishop Gorman High to the state championship last winter and has scholarship offers from the likes of SMU, Northern Arizona, Cal-Poly, Cal-State Riverside, Cal-State Northridge and Oakland University in Detroit.
Come later this school year, though, the 5-foot-9 speedster likely will have the more attractive offer he is looking for.
That offer, however, might not come in basketball.
Despite taking two years off and joining Gorman’s football team three weeks into the season, Loyd has become one of the most valuable players on the Gaels’ star-studded roster. Gorman (10-0) is the clear-cut favorite to capture the large-school state championship and opens the playoffs Friday with a Sunset Regional quarterfinal tilt against visiting Cheyenne.
Loyd, a shutdown defensive back and electrifying kick returner, has used his 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash to become more than a contributor on the state’s best team.
Gorman has eight with Division-I football offers, but it’s Loyd’s winning mentality and game-changing ability that makes him a perfect fit.
Loyd returned two punts for a touchdown Oct. 22 against Spring Valley, including making several tacklers miss and racing up the sideline for a 72-yard touchdown to highlight a 56-6 victory. The other return went for 59 yards.
Loyd has yet to receive a football offer, but the rising star has received plenty of interest from recruiters in recent weeks, Gorman coach Tony Sanchez said. The coach is certain Loyd is a top-notch prospect.
“The scary thing is that he could play Division-I football, too,” Sanchez said. “He’s one incredible athlete.”
Loyd has eight punt returns for 212 yards and four touchdowns — not bad for someone who spent most of the last three years strictly working on his basketball handling skills and jump shot.
Loyd insists he is still a basketball player and has every intention of joining older brothers Michael (BYU) and Kevin (Grambling State) on the collegiate hardwood next year.
But if he continues the impressive performances in football, he will have a decision to make.
“Basketball is my first love,” Loyd said. “I love doing both, but basketball has always been my first passion.”
Loyd averaged 14.2 points and 6 assists last year, including making the game-winning foul shot with 1.8 seconds to play in a state championship game victory against Palo Verde.
“He’s just a great all-around kid and has fun with everything he does,” Gorman basketball coach Grant Rice said. “But he is really competitive when it comes down to it and does all of the little things it takes to win.”
Loyd traveled to St. George, Utah, for Gorman’s season-opening football game against Dixie High content on cheering from the bleachers. But after seeing how much fun his classmates were having in their initial game, Loyd got the itch to strap on the shoulder pads again.
He played for the Gaels' ninth-grade team as a freshman, but hadn’t seriously considered a return to the gridiron. Later that weekend, he mentioned to senior Xavier Grimble — the nation’s top-rated tight end, according to recruiting Web Site Rivals.com, and a member of basketball program — how joining the football team had crossed his mind.
The Gaels needed a kick returner and Loyd would help solve their biggest weakness — a lack of team speed.
Now, he’s a key component in the quest for a state title. Gorman has outscored opponents 541-44 and anything less than a state championship would be a disappointment.
“I’ve been watching John Loyd do that to kids since we were in third grade,” said Ian Bobak, Gorman’s senior defensive lineman and one of the eight with Division-I offers, after Loyd’s multiple punt return performance against Spring Valley.
Loyd still works on his basketball skills daily after football practice and is looking forward to the Gaels’ season-opening basketball game. Gorman plays defending national champion Findlay Prep Dec. 12 at the Orleans Arena.
“I’ll be ready for (Findlay),” Loyd said. “That’s a game we are all looking forward to.”
Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected].