Sunday, August 15, 2010

Stafon Johnson suffers heartbreaking setback in comeback

One of the first rules of journalism of any kind is that you must remain objective. You can't get emotionally wrapped up in the people you talk to, because it will generally affect your coverage in a negative fashion, and it can bring your credibility into question in serious cases. However, there are those rare people you meet along the way who make objectivity an impossible exercise. Former USC and current Tennessee Titans running back Stafon Johnson(notes) is one of those people. I first interviewed Johnson for the Washington Post before the draft, after I did a piece on Travelle Gaines, his personal trainer.

When I talked to Johnson in early March, he was about six months removed from the terrible accident that almost claimed his life. On September 28, Johnson was lifting weights at the USC facility, and a barbell with 275 pounds stacked on it slipped. The bar came down and crushed his larynx, and Johnson had to undergo emergency surgery. He had a breathing tube through most of October, and doctors told him that he could have died had his neck muscles not been so well-developed. Few expected Johnson to make a comeback that included the NFL, but Johnson started working with Gaines, got his strength back, and got on with the Titans as an
undrafted free agent.
Johnson was making tracks in his first preseason game on Saturday night against the Seattle Seahawks, gaining 23 yards on three carries, until his right leg was trapped underneath him on a swing pass at the end of the third quarter. Johnson went down and stayed down as the cart came out to take him off the field. Johnson's right leg was placed in an air cast, and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll (who coached Johnson at USC) came out to talk to the young man. The entire Titans team came out on the field to pray as Johnson was loaded onto the cart. Everyone knew what was at stake, and what Johnson had gone through to get there.
"I was just so sorry to see Stafon get hurt," Carroll said after the game. "This was a guy that had to undergo so much physical pressure and mental pressure. It looked bad, and he was very broken up by it. I know that (Tennessee coach) Jeff (Fisher) thinks the world of Stafon and if anybody can get back, he can.
"He's an absolute warrior. He will do it. He's done it before under worse circumstances, and this will be a challenge for him."
Initial reports indicate that Johnson may have a dislocated ankle, which would likely mean the end of his 2010 season. Whatever the final diagnosis may be, it was a heart-wrenching moment for those who have been so impressed with the strength and courage Johnson has displayed during his amazing comeback.
"I knew I had to do it to get to where I wanted to get to ... I wasn't 100 percent, but I will compete against anyone and everyone, because that's how I am," Johnson told me in March about his recovery. "That's how desperate I am to be great."
This is one of the good guys. He deserves to grace a football field again. Please think good thoughts for him if you can.

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