There are countless players every season who put their studies on hold for a shot at NFL stardom. They leave the classroom behind so they can spend January, February, March and April getting bigger, stronger, faster, some of them vowing to return to class the first chance they get.
Then there is Tejay Johnson.
The TCU safety was an All-American last season, a Thorpe award finalist and the heart of the best defense in college football as a senior. But rather than pursue an NFL career, he opted to retire. Johnson did not want to leave school, not when he still had so much to do to get his degree in habilitation of the deaf and hard of hearing.
Johnson is the true embodiment of a student-athlete, understanding that the whole point of going to college is to get a degree that will serve him his entire life. If he had already graduated, then he would have pursued a pro career. But he decided he simply did not want to leave school without that degree in his hands. Johnson is set to graduate in the spring of 2012.
"I'm a first generation college kid in my family," Johnson said in a phone interview. "I have 10 siblings in which I'm the oldest, so I've always been a role model to them and wanted to set an example to them. Knowing I had people looking up to me and my own personal values of getting a college degree and wanting to better myself made the decision for me."
Johnson took 21 credit hours this past spring, and that would have made training for a potential future NFL career impossible. Part of his semester was spent working in a classroom with students. He also worked with somebody on speech therapy. Johnson currently is in the middle of a three-week course with a professor where he is a student teacher working with non-hearing kids at a high school near Fort Worth. Johnson was nervous at first, but one of his students told him just the other day he was a great teacher. "That boosted my morale a little bit," Johnson said.
Next spring, he will do an entire semester in a classroom, but his work with students now is preparing him for that. Johnson said he does not miss football much, but he is not sure how he is going to feel in the fall -- since he will still be in school at TCU but not on the team.
"The whole football aspect hasn't been hard giving it up," Johnson said. "I still work out every now and then, but I guess I don't miss playing football as of right now. I'm still fresh off not playing so it's not such a big deal. I was thinking about what it would be like watching the game from the stands this year as opposed to being down there. I won't know until it comes."
Johnson said he spoke to a few agents, NFL players, his mom and coaches before making his decision. He was not invited to any all-star games, and knew his speed was something that would draw questions. But he also thought he would have been projected as a middle-round pick had he decided to pursue the NFL.
That mattered little. Johnson has a bigger purpose in life, one that he chose because of a deaf cousin. His decision should be applauded.