Exclusive: Quarterback Nate Johnson Details His Decision To Leave Utah Football

Nov 29, 2023, 4:51 PM | Updated: Dec 4, 2023, 10:08 am

SALT LAKE CITY – Former Utah quarterback Nate Johnson gave details on his decision to leave Utah football last week.

The NCAA Transfer Portal is set to open on December 4 and Johnson’s name will be circulating in it after spending nearly two years with the Utes.

Johnson joined JJ and Alex Wednesday afternoon and was very candid about what led to his decision to transfer, as well as some of the good points and bad points of the process.

Cam Rising Returning Was The Main Catalyst For Johnson’s Departure

Johnson has been with Utah for a freshman and redshirt freshman year and didn’t want to sit behind quarterback Cam Rising for another year.

Johnson mentioned there were some talks about moving him to another position to get him on the field for the Utes, but his heart is in playing the quarterback position and it just wasn’t going to happen at Utah.


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“If I really wanted to play quarterback, become the starter and be the guy- it just wasn’t going to be here at Utah,” Johnson said. “Another thing too, with Cam coming back- he’s, their guy. He’s a guy. Coaches say it in meetings, everybody talks about him. Really, with him coming back, there is a slim chance of me playing on the field as a quarterback. There are a bunch of people who say I should switch positions. I’d make a good receiver or defensive back, but really, I just want to stick to playing quarterback. I like being the leader, leading these guys to victory.”

Nate Johnson Felt He Didn’t Get A Fair Shake To Be Quarterback

Johnson split the starting reps this past season with Bryson Barnes in both the Florida and Baylor games to start the year. During the Baylor game, Johnson was given the keys to the car for the last two drives and pulled off the last-minute win that earned him the starting job outright.

Johnson held on to that starting job for three more games- Weber State, UCLA, and Oregon State before Utah made another, final change back to Barnes during the BYE week after playing the Beavers. Johnson says he feels like he was never given the chance to earn the starting job back after that point, but did reaffirm his main reason for leaving is the return of Rising in 2024.


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“They gave me a shot, obviously, with that Oregon State game,” Johnson said. “They ended up making a change and I never really got the chance to really fight for it back. That’s all I can say right now, but really the main reason is Cam coming back and knowing that I’d have to sit another year and watch.”

Johnson also alluded to the fact he felt the coaches never talked to him about the change they made during BYE week practices.

“They really didn’t say not a thing at all,” Johnson recalled. “They didn’t tell me Bryson was going to take the spot back. They didn’t tell me anything, just it happened. It was weird. After the Oregon State game, we had the BYE week. I was practicing all BYE week until I got sick and then coming into the week of Cal, Bryson came back from his injury and they just made him the starter.”

Setting The Record Straight, Nate Johnson Did Talk To The Coaches

One of the pervasive social media rumors floating around as news trickled out Johnson would no longer be with the team was that he left without talking to the coaches. Johnson says that is false.

“There was a conversation with the coaches,” Johnson said. “I would never quit on a team, that rumor was getting spread around a lot. There were a lot of people saying I quit on the team. I never quit on the team at all. I never would quit on the team. I went and talked to coach Whitt last Monday about it and told him I planned on transferring. Obviously, he was hurt by it, but he understands I have to do what is best for me. He’s obviously helping me out with that. He’s going to help me send some film out there, help me get in contact with a bunch of coaches, but there was a conversation with my offensive coordinator and coach Whitt.”

While It Didn’t Work Out For Nate Johnson At Utah, And There Is Disappointment, It Also Wasn’t All Bad

Johnson wasn’t afraid to express both sides of the coin in his interview with Alex and JJ. While a lot of the conversation did focus on Johnson’s frustration and disappointment over the situation, he did also express a lot of gratitude and love for his time as a Ute too.

“I’d say my favorite memory is winning that Pac-12 Championship,” Johnson said. “That was unbelievable. It’s hard to beat a team twice. Especially that USC team from two years ago, last year. They were really good and to be able to get back to that game after having to have four or five different things happen, it was unbelievable. We were not losing that game. We had to have all of these things happen and we didn’t come to lose. That moment there was unbelievable.”


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“Another one of my favorite moments really was being at the Rose Bowl,” Johnson continued. “I’d never been to a Rose Bowl as a college football player. I’d always watched the Rose Bowl on TV as a fan, but I’d never been to a Rose Bowl as a college football player, so getting that experience- it was unbelievable. The things we did in L.A. was fun.”

Johnson finished off by mentioning getting surprised as a team by the Crimson Collective with the trucks they were leased.

“Obviously, I won’t be able to drive it, but that moment of the Crimson Collective hooking up 80+ guys on scholarship with 80 trucks- that’s unbelievable,” Johnson said. “You basically hooked them up for the snow because the snow is heavy here in Utah and pretty much all of those guys who maybe don’t have a car up here or have a car, but it doesn’t get along great in the snow, now they are hooked up.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on XInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Exclusive: Quarterback Nate Johnson Details His Decision To Leave Utah Football