Last week I received an e-mail from a reader who said he followed up on my suggestion to go see La Costa Canyon High’s Chase Budinger, now playing basketball at Arizona, so you could say you saw him when. Budinger hasn’t disappointed.

Here’s my pick for 2007: Go see University of San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson. He has too much physical talent and intangible football skills to not be with an NFL team next year. It doesn’t matter that he’s playing against non-scholarship school competition.

Last week Pittsburgh Steelers Hall-of-Famer Mean Joe Greene visited USD to scout Johnson. Might the spirits of Walter Payton and Buck Buchanan, both Hall-of-Famers that have passed on, be next to visit USD?

The Walter Payton Award and the Buck Buchanan Award are the top two honors in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Div. I-AA) and USD has candidates on the watch lists for both awards. The Payton award is for the nation’s top offensive player in the FCS and the Buchanan award for the nation’s top defensive player in the FCS. The awards are named for them since both played Division I-AA football — Payton at Jackson State and Buchanan at Grambling State.

Johnson, considered an NFL draft prospect, was a candidate last year for the Payton Award last year and USD senior defensive end Bakhtiari was added last week to the Buchanan watch list.

Josh Johnson.

Bakhtiari, a 6-foot-2, 260-pounder — undersized for the defensive line in the NFL, is projected as an outside linebacker free agent prospect to be in an NFL training camp.

Bakhtiari was added to the watch list after USD’s 56-19 win over Drake that included Chargers general manager A.J. Smith in attendance.

Johnson, who hasn’t thrown an interception this year, was 15-of-23 for 305 yards with five touchdown passes. Bakhtiari had five sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 2 quarterback hurries and 1 pass breakup.

One of his QB hurries set up Ben Hannula’s interception that was returned for a 99-yard score, with Bakhtiari throwing the final block 70 yards down field for Hannula to score.

USD coach Ron Caragher said nearly every NFL team has been by to scout Johnson, but he said other seniors deserve a look.

“I think we have several seniors beyond Josh,” Caragher said. “Eric Bakhtiari is playing great, (wide receiver) Wes Doyle is having a heck of a year and (linebacker) Ronnie Pentz as well.”

USD, ranked No. 1 in the nation among FBS non-scholarship schools, is home at 6 p.m. Saturday against Jacksonville. The Toreros are 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the Pioneer Football League. The Dolphins are 2-4, 1-2.

In addition to USD’s No. 1 national ranking for non-scholarship schools the Toreros broke into the overall Top 25 rankings this week for all FCS schools. They’re tied with Hampton at No. 25.

USD hopes to become the first non-scholarship school to earn an at-large bid to the FCS 16-team tournament bracket for the national title. They were considered last year but weren’t picked.

— TOM SHANAHAN

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