Friday, April 27, 2007

Arizona's Johnson excited but low-key

By Ryan Finley
April 27, 2007

Michael Johnson is trying not to get too nervous.

Yes, the former UA safety knows the NFL draft is this weekend. He knows he will likely be taken.

Johnson also knows his childhood dream of playing professional football is just days — hours? minutes? — away from coming true.

He just does not want to think too much about it. Yet.

"It's starting to get to me, now that we're getting down to it," Johnson said. "Right now, I'm just trying to stay focused so I don't get too anxious. I need to see where the cards fall."

If scouts are right, the Wildcats' 6-foot-3-inch, 211-pound free safety has nothing to worry about.

Teams are attracted to his athleticism and versatility. Johnson's 40-yard dash time of 4.53 belies the fact that he has good closing speed and quick hands, said Scott Wright of

"I like Michael Johnson," Wright told the Star. "He's very athletic, and he has good size and bulk."

Johnson's agent, Neil Cornrich, praised the safety's "great strength and rare coverage abilities," as well as his smarts.

Johnson remained in school after his senior season, and will graduate in May with a degree in communications.

"Based on both his measurables and intangibles, it looks like he's going to be a first-day guy," Cornrich said. "Teams are looking for someone with character, and I think he has demonstrated that over and over again."

Johnson, 22, has help. His brother, Reggie Brown, has become his close adviser throughout the draft process.

Brown is one of the few people to understand Johnson's situation. Brown was taken in the first round of the 1996 NFL draft (17th overall) by the Detroit Lions after a stellar career at Texas A&M.

Brown, who is now out of football, helped Johnson select Cornrich from a pool of agents and prepared him for the NFL Combine in February. Brown also has explained the nature of an often-cruel business.

"I just tried to reiterate what's really important and what teams really look for," Brown said. "I told him to be yourself. Let your track record speak for yourself. Be a responsible young man. Be professional."

Brown, 32, also serves as a reminder of the sport's fleeting nature. Two years into his pro career, Brown suffered an on-field collision that nearly cost him his life.

Brown suffered a spinal cord injury during the Lions' Dec. 21, 1997 game against the Jets. He lay motionless on the Pontiac Silverdome turf for 17 minutes as his teammates watched, stunned. At one point, he stopped breathing.

Johnson, 13 at the time, was affected by the injury. The brothers lived together at their mother's house as Reggie rehabbed his injury.

"For him, it may have been one of those life lessons," Brown said. "He got to see me every day in my halo (brace), and watched me go from an athlete to what I had become, and then back to normal."

Brown made a complete recovery but never played football again.

The ordeal has given his little brother a sense of perspective.

He has passed on many of the typical trappings that come with his position. Johnson will not live it up on draft day. Instead, he will spend the weekend at his mother's house in Austin, Texas.

And he won't even watch the draft.

"When I make the team," he said, "I can celebrate."

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