Local NFL players thrill kids

Published 10:17 pm Thursday, July 9, 2009

As more than 200 children crowded around Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson and Seattle Seahawks receiver Ben Obomanu, the two Dallas County natives stopped to sign each book and pose for pictures.

To those schoolchildren, the two had achieved celebrity status. But to Johnson and Obomanu, reading to the children and talking about the importance of education was a homecoming.

Spoiled NFL stars? Not even close.

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“I’m just Mike from Selma,” Johnson said Wednesday at RIF’s Reading Is Fun Kickoff. “I’ve got a job.”

Both NFL players will be looking to make an impact this season — Johnson in his first year after being the Bengals’ eighth-round pick earlier this year, and Obomanu after sustaining an injury in the final preseason game that forced him to sit out all of last season.

Although Johnson may not feel like a star now, he will get extra exposure this year. HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” which followed the Dallas Cowboys last season, goes to Cincinnati for shows beginning Aug. 12.

Like Johnson said, he’s got a job. And he’s excited about the possibilities during his rookie season.

“It’s been a blast,” he said. “I have been learning everything.”

Pro football players say execution at the higher level tends to move at a quicker pace. Johnson said he’s been able to make the adjustment.

“Once I got in there, I found that it’s easier than people think,” he said.

Johnson goes to training camp July 31 in Georgetown, Ky. But he said he enjoys being able to attend events like the Reading Is Fun Kickoff.

“Whenever I can do something like this, I really try to,” he said. “I believe in this city and I believe in the people.”

Obomanu is making it a point to try to stay healthy this year with some early workouts in Pensacola, Fla. The Seahawks open training camp Aug. 3 in Renton, Wash.

“I feel good about this year’s training camp,” Obomanu said. “Going in, at least I’m on the depth chart as the third receiver. So that means they have confidence in me to contribute.”

Obomanu has been hitting the books when he hasn’t been working out. He was been studying for his master’s of business administration online at Kaplan University.

“I think it’s going to be a great year,” he said, “if I can stay healthy.”