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Rookie Safety Johnson Uses Past as Motivation

Posted Aug 17, 2010

Rookie safety Robert Johnson is working hard to earn a spot on the Titans' final 53-man roster.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans’ fifth-round pick Robert Johnson has quietly looked impressive in training camp.  Safeties in the NFL have to learn many things, including pass coverages, run fronts, blitz packages and special teams responsibilities.  While the multi-faceted nature of the position usually makes it one of the more difficult ones for rookies to pick up, he has caught on rather quickly.  Even as a rookie, he looks to contend for playing time at either safety position during the 2010 season. 

Playing in the NFL would mean a lot for Johnson, who is most excited that fans will get to see him in the spotlight.

“Playing in this league would mean a lot to me," Johnson said.  "Most fans know what number I wear now.  If I was able to make the roster, they could probably even be able to find me on the internet as an NFL player. It’s crazy.  It would be something spectacular, something new.  It would mean a whole lot for me as well as my family."

With a priority on acquiring depth at the safety position, the Titans’ decided to pick the Los Angeles native in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. In Johnson's senior season at Utah, he picked off six passes while compiling 70 tackles. He is also remembered for his two interceptions off of John Parker Wilson in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, in which the Utes side upset the Crimson Tide 31-17.  It was the first time a non-BCS team won a BCS bowl game and also marked Alabama’s last loss before their current winning streak.  Johnson impressed scouts at Utah’s pro day as well, running a 4.58 40-yard dash.

Johnson does not take much of the credit for his success, deflecting the praise to his mother Wanda.  When he was just six years old, his father was tragically shot and killed in a robbery in Los Angeles.  Though he doesn’t fully remember the tragedy, he was fully aware of the sweeping changes in his family that took place in the event’s aftermath.

“Well, I was so young that I never really knew what happened.  My mom tried to keep it from us the best she could.  The biggest struggles were the little things.  Most of the responsibility for things that my dad was doing, like taking us to the park or to sports practices, was taken over by my oldest brother.  So we continued to do what we were doing before, but you could always tell that something was missing,” Johnson said.

Growing up, Wanda was willing to tackle the immense responsibility of raising seven children with little help.  Johnson has immense respect for his mother as well as his oldest brother, Sonny, who shouldered some of the workload around the house.  He feels that both of them were responsible for getting him to where he is today, whether that meant providing discipline or getting him to practice on time.

“My mom was the mother and the father.  There were times that she wanted to come outside and play football or basketball with us.  She was doing the best she could by taking care of all of us.  She played both roles.  Because of my father’s death, my relationship with my mom got a whole lot closer.  I noticed that she didn’t want us to feel like we were missing anything.  She carried herself that way.  When my mom couldn’t, my oldest brother took us to school.  He did that for me even though he had to go to school at Southwest Community College immediately afterwards,” Johnson said.

Johnson never wanted to use his father’s death as an excuse.  He always wanted to come back as a stronger individual and football player.  Playing in the NFL was always a goal of his.  He uses his upbringing as his a major motivator each day on the practice field.

“Sometimes when things happen like that, when you grow up in a tough neighborhood without a father, people often say that the kid is not going to amount to anything.  My mom made sure that no matter what, father or not, we would get disciplined when we needed it.  Most people say that without a father in the household the discipline gets a little out of whack.  But she took care of everything.  Though she was little, she was powerful,” Johnson said with a smile.

When Johnson was drafted by the Titans, he did not own a working automobile.  He does not own a house or apartment in the Nashville area either.  While many rookies like to buy themselves new cars or apartments with their signing bonuses, Johnson used his to get his mother a car.  He recently bought a 2009 GMC Winstorm.  Though he has not been able to give it to her, he knows she will be excited.  With a chuckle, he adds that she has always wanted a minivan.

After getting drafted into the NFL, Robert offers some advice for children who are growing up in similar situations.

“The only thing that I can tell them is to find the best way for you.  Play by the rules.  Try to make the best decisions.  No one is making good decisions one hundred percent of the time.  Sometimes you’ve got to learn from the mistakes and move on with your life.  The killing of my father was hard.  Using my mother and brothers as role models helped me to move on and get to where I am.  Try to pick a good role model but even if you’re role model messes up, try to learn from their mistakes by doing something different,” Johnson said.

With thanks to his mother, Johnson has come a long way to get to where he is now.  He is now in a position to serve as a role model to kids growing up in situations like his own, a position that he is keen to take.

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