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UO's Loyd ready to contribute on the gridiron

EUGENE — Johnathan Loyd says his attempt to transition from Oregon point guard to a wide receiver Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota can count on is a lot more than a fun spring football story line.

"I'm trying to compete, I'm a competitor," Loyd said after the Ducks completed their eighth of 15 spring practices on Wednesday. "I'm not coming on the team just to sit on the bench and cheer-lead. I'm definitely trying to go as hard as I can and trying to contribute to the team."

Loyd has been doing more than running routes for Mariota and the other quarterbacks. The leaders of the two high-profile programs have been working out together off the field in an effort to get on the same page.

"I've been around (Mariota) in the weight room, and he's been helping me through this," Loyd said. "He's a great leader, and everybody respects him. I have the utmost respect for him."

The feeling is mutual from Loyd's new coaches and teammates.

Matt Lubick said Loyd had "instant respect" the moment he joined the program. In fact, the Ducks' second-year wide receivers coach helped persuade the former high school dual-sport star to give football another try.

"Coach Lubick was the one that was talking to me the most and in contact with my high school football coach the most," said Loyd, who was Dana Altman's first recruit at Oregon. "So I just decided I'd just rock with him."

The staff believes that Loyd could help on special teams — the shifty 5-foot-8, 163-pound blur has been getting reps on the punt and kickoff return teams — and perhaps even challenge for playing time at wide receiver.

Oregon has lost Mariota's top two targets from last season, Josh Huff (1,140 yards, 12 touchdowns) to graduation and Bralon Addison (890 yards, seven touchdowns), to injury.

Keanon Lowe, the lone returning starter at receiver, started talking to Loyd about coming out for football in January, before the men's basketball team made the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season.

"It's awesome," Lowe said of having Loyd in his position group this spring. "He has a big learning curve because he hasn't played football in four years. I've definitely been there to help him. He's a good friend of mine. "¦

"I think he has as good a chance as anyone in that room."

Loyd helped lead Las Vegas' Bishop Gorman High to a state championship in football as a senior. He was first team all-state as a return man in 2009 with five touchdowns.

Getting back on the gridiron is kind of like riding a bike "¦ and then crashing the bike.

"I'm a little sore," Loyd said. "It's just been a learning process trying to figure everything out and making it come as fast as it can."

Loyd said he can use some of his basketball moves to get off the line of scrimmage and separate from defenders. But even in full pads the collisions are more bruising than running full-speed into a pick.

"Basketball, you've got to be able to run and cut freely. Football is not that at all; it's a much more physical game," said Loyd, who admits he had not thrown a block since eighth grade. "I've been checked a couple times just trying to run across the middle and I'm getting smacked by a linebacker. So it's just different, and I've got to get that in my head."

During last week's scrimmage, offensive coordinator Scott Frost said Loyd showed some "flashes" of being able to play receiver at Oregon.

"We love Johnny," Frost said. "Just having him on the football team, he's such a positive personality and great person. He's got a lot of talent, so it's just how quick he picks it up."

Fans will be able to check Johnny Baskeball-turned-Football out during the spring game on May 3 at Autzen Stadium.

Loyd expects to run out of the tunnel again in the fall.

"I'm committed," Loyd said. "Practices have been going well, I'm enjoying the team, I feel like I can do something out here. So I'm totally committed."