Johnson returns to roots

Published 12:06 am Friday, March 13, 2009

Three days after wowing NFL scouts at Georgia Tech’s pro day in Atlanta, defensive end Michael Johnson walked into a packed Meadowview Elementary cafeteria.

Row upon row of students clamored to slap his hand.

It was the first time he had walked the school’s halls in a decade, but Johnson’s former teachers greeted him with a surprise. A banner with archived photos on either side celebrated his return to his old stomping grounds.

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“I forgot I had that haircut,” Johnson said with a smile.

The purpose of this visit was not to discuss the April 25 NFL Draft, though several curious students asked. Instead, he stressed the importance of academics and high goals.

“Focus on academics. School work comes first,” said Johnson. “In high school, I saw several other good players, but the difference was I had my school work. [Coaches] never would’ve come and recruited me had I not done school work.”

Johnson also stressed the importance of envisioning those goals.

“Whatever you want to do, envision yourself doing it,” said Johnson. “You’ve got to envision yourself doing what you want to do. Always set goals, and when you reach those goals, set them higher.”

Though an NFL career appears certain, Johnson did not envision football in his future. His uncle and father worked for International Paper, and he wanted to follow in their footsteps. That goal changed after a trip to an Air Force base a few years later, but Johnson had already surpassed the height limit to join.

Students and faculty alike eagerly listened to his message on Thursday.

“He is repeating what we say on a regular basis to these students about goal setting,” said Meadowview Elementary Principal Jeanne Brust. “It’s just wonderful to have someone come in and actually say those things to these students. It’s even better that he is actually a student from Meadowview, and the students can relate that he was once where they are now.”

Third-grader Clinequa Peeples believed Johnson said some things that will stick with her down the line.

“I learned that it’s good to dream something, to become successful.”

Though he will get a crack at the next level, Johnson has plans to return to Selma when all is said and done. He is interested in coaching and working with youth.

“I believe in Selma and the people of Selma,” said Johnson. “I will be back.”