Steven Johnson began playing football at a young age in Media, Penn. He’s now an accomplished professional linebacker, but the road to his dream hasn’t been easy. What seemed difficult at the time, Johnson now sees as part of a plan that has made him stronger both on and off the field.
Pittsburgh Steeler Steven Johnson, center, enjoys working with and encouraging children through his foundation.
During his teen years, Johnson’s parents divorced, he faced bullying at school, and he didn’t make the varsity squad until senior year. Johnson got a break after being named team captain and winning all-state and regional recognition his final year. But it wasn’t enough to win him scholarships to major university football programs, so he went on to play at a small prep-school.
In his first season, Johnson received a devastating knee injury that put him out for the year. Depressed and physically hurting, he learned to rely on God in ways unknown to him before.
He walked on at the University of Kansas the following season, and received a scholarship the year after. Again Johnson proved his talent on the field. He won awards and led the team in tackles.
After graduating from college, Johnson participated in the National Football League’s (NFL) Scouting Combine. It did not result in a draft pick, but the Denver Bronco’s offered him a chance to compete for a position at their pre-season camp. Johnson made the team and continued on the roster for three years, playing beside one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks, Peyton Manning.
He then spent one year with the Tennessee Titans, and now enters his fifth season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, hoping to gain a starting position. Johnson and his wife, Stephanie, have started The Faith Motivated Foundation, which seeks to encourage kids and adults to set and achieve their goals and to live a healthy lifestyle, by motivating through Christ. Johnson has taken a rocky road into the NFL, and it’s required a large measure of faith in God and lots of hard work.
Q: What is it like to play for a quality, successful head coach like Mike Tomlin?
A: When you play for a coach that has a spiritual compass like Mike Tomlin, you feel a sense of favor and you can’t really explain it. With Mike Tomlin – and I’ve only told a few people this – he kind of feels like my dad.
Literally, it’s that kind of trust in a coach. When you mess up, he will get on you, but he won’t beat you down. He wants to make you better, and he always tells the truth. And that’s all you can ask for in this business, for guys to be honest with you and tell you the truth.
Q: That has to be a confidence builder. Do you want to play harder for a coach that tells it like it is?
A: Yes. “Do I need to work on something? Do I need to get better at this?” – he will say, “Yeah, you do.”
Some coaches don’t necessarily do that. With Coach Tom you get it straight. I love “Steeler Nation,” and being in Pittsburgh is truly a blessing.
I hope I can be a Steeler for the rest of my career. It’s definitely an honor and a privilege to be a part of that organization.
Q: Our organization, FSPN, was honored to have you as one of our keynote speakers at our “Faith and Football” live Super Bowl outreach. How did that experience impact you?
A: It was great. I had a chance to give fans an inside look into my life: what I have been through; my relationship with God; how I was brought up in my faith; and how I am still living by that today. I think it’s cool that many guys in the NFL today are active in sharing their faith in God. That’s what it’s all about, spreading the gospel.
Q: You have such a great heart for kids, but you are straight up in your message to them.
A: Exactly. Not everyone is going to be an NFL athlete or an NBA All-Star. That’s just how it is. We need doctors, teachers, firefighters and lawyers. That gift God gives us – did you use it in the right way and give back to the next generation?
That’s what it’s all about, you know. It’s a never-ending cycle. And we have to continue to better ourselves.
We should all have one common goal, and that’s to be successful in what we’re called to do.
Q: You reach so many kids through your faithmotivated.org foundation. I like that you take the time to personally interact with many young people.
A: Through my Faith Motivated Foundation, that’s how I do outreach to a lot of kids.
I have kids come up to me all the time wanting to talk to me. I’m like “Wow!” Sometimes we exchange information – it can be a phone call or sometimes I have opportunity to treat them to lunch. That’s what it’s all about.
When I was little, I followed guys (of faith) like Brian Dawkins and Duce Staley, because I was a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan.
I didn’t realize it at the time because I was so young, but the gifts that God gave us, we have to pass it on to someone else and keep this thing going.
Q: What I enjoy about you is you’re down to earth, with a very positive message, and you show kids that side of you.
A: Yes, I’m an NFL football player, but I’m also just a regular person, you know what I mean? I eat pizza on the weekend. I love French fries. We’re regular people just like you, and we love God. I know that if you love God and trust in Him, He can take you farther than you could ever imagine.
Q: Who are some current players that you look up to in the NFL?
A: I talk to Matthew Slater (Super Bowl Champion, New England Patriots) throughout the off-season. He’s always sharing his faith with me, along with his trials and tribulations; how he’s been in this league for so long; his accomplishments – so many Pro Bowls and accolades. I want to go to the Pro Bowl, and God knows that’s the desire of my heart. I’m going to continue to stick it out, and go forward.
Visit faithmotivated.org and connect with Johnson on Twitter: @smj2852.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roman Gabriel III is an evangelist and motivational speaker. Hear his Sold Out Sports Talk Radio program on American Family Radio in 200 cities nationally or streaming live at afr.net. Visit his website: soldouttv.com; Facebook: Roman Gabriel III; connect on Twitter: @romangabriel3rd. Contact at (910) 431-6483 or email: [email protected].)