Hall of Fame Profile: Michael Johnson

The 2018 Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame class includes All-Americans Steven Blackwood (baseball), two-time NBA champion and Olympic medalist Chris Bosh (basketball), veteran NFL defensive lineman Michael Johnson, Adriane Lapsley Butler (track and field), Kristi Miller-North (tennis) and Chan Song (golf), as well as longtime athletics fundraiser Jack Thompson.

Tickets are on sale for the annual Induction Dinner on Sept. 21 (reception at 6 p.m., dinner and program at 7 p.m.) at $125 each through Aug. 15, $150 after Aug. 15. They can be purchased online (click here), and questions about the dinner and tickets can be directed to Barb Dockweiler (bdockweiler@athletics.gatech.edu) in the Alexander-Tharpe Fund.

 

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

It was fitting that Michael Johnson played defensive end, as it aptly described his role in numerous plays for Georgia Tech’s defense from 2005 through 2008.

At 6-foot-7, 260 pounds, Johnson was a demolitions expert on the Yellow Jackets’ defensive line, blowing up plays and spending as much time in opposing backfields as the quarterbacks and running backs he planted into the turf.

In his four years on the Flats, Johnson recorded 107 tackles (70 solo), 30.5 tackles for loss (tied for 17th in program history), with 19.0 sacks (tied for 25th all-time in ACC history), including 17.5 TFLs and 9.0 sacks his senior year (both third in the ACC), when, as tri-captain, he was named first-team All-ACC and first-team All-American.

But numbers didn’t mean much to Johnson. His primary focus was on getting back up and ready for the next play and the next chance to blow something up.

His approach hasn’t changed and for the last nine seasons he’s worked on short-circuiting offensive coordinators’ calls on Sundays — all but one season with the Cincinnati Bengals, where he’ll be in 2018.

One call that did throw him, however, came during the off-season and originated from the Georgia Tech athletic department. It was the call informing him of his induction into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.

“It never crossed my mind. I’ve been playing sports year-round since, probably, fifth grade so it’s just kind of been my life, school and ball,” said the Selma, Ala., native. “I have just kind of always been locked in to a process of preparing for the season, having the season, taking a short break, starting back preparation again. It continued all the way through Georgia Tech. Once I got to the NFL, it was the same thing. So, I never really have had time to slow down and really look back on everything, but I appreciate the honor. I appreciate getting the call. It’s a blessing to be remembered like that. I’m thankful.”

Johnson actually was about to begin a film session when the call came — although it was a little different than those associated with football players’ film viewing.

“I was getting ready to watch a movie with my wife,” he said, with a laugh. “I was shocked. I was thankful that they thought enough to remember me.”

From the time he left Dallas County High School in Plantersville, Ala., where he not only was a two-sport star (football and basketball), but also was valedictorian of his senior class, he had Georgia Tech on the brain.

“I can’t name all the schools that recruited me, but the reason I chose Tech was knowing the prestige that the school has,” said Johnson. “You hear the name Georgia Tech, you automatically understand that anybody who went there has some type of brain power. I thought that would be a great thing to have on my resume, regardless of what I did after college.

“Being able to come to Atlanta, coming from Selma, which is a rural area, was great as well,” he added. “Meeting (character development coach) Derrick Moore, made me feel at home as a spiritual advisor. Those kinds of things really were important to me and my family.”

A two-way player for the Hornets — he ranked seventh as a tight end and No. 2 prospect in the state of Alabama by Scout.com, 13th in the nation by Rivals, Johnson dedicated himself to defense at Tech.

As a freshman, he played all 12 games, recording 6.0 tackles with a sack. As a sophomore, Johnson recorded 34 stops (25 solo), 6.0 for loss with 5.0 sacks in 12 games. As a junior, he made 21 stops (11 solo), 6.0 TFLs, with four sacks. Johnson also led the ACC in forced fumbles his sophomore and junior years, with three each season. He was part of the 2006 unit, which recorded the 10th-best rushing defense in school history (104.8 yards per game).

Michael Johnson Highlight Reel

Johnson still has plenty of fond memories.

“We went to bowl games every year and we had some pretty memorable victories. It was pretty cool,” he said. “I remember going home to Auburn my very first game my freshman year and we beat them in their house when they had a 15-game win streak. I remember going down to Miami, they were ranked No. 3. My sophomore year we went to the ACC Championship — we should have won it. I made a big play on the goal line against Maryland (a sack on 3rd and goal at the 4, led to intentional grounding penalty, then a sack on 4th and goal at the 19). It was kind of a coming-out party for me, so to speak. That was a fun, memorable game.

“Junior year, we made it to a bowl game but we weren’t as good as we were my sophomore year but we still had some fun games,” he added. “Those rivalry games, whether it’s Georgia, whether it’s Clemson, Miami, those were always fun games to play, Virginia, Virginia Tech, we had some pretty big battles with those guys throughout those years.”

In 2007, his junior year, the Jackets stymied Notre Dame, 33-3, in South Bend, to open the season, then won again in Miami and beat No. 13 Clemson.

Johnson saved his best for last, his senior year, coincidentally Paul Johnson’s first.

He made 46 tackles (28 solo), including 17.5 for loss, 9.0 sacks, blocked the third kick of his career, broke up seven passes, and even made his first interception, returning a Robert Marve pass 26 yards for a pick-six against Miami. The Jackets topped off the season, beating Georgia, 45-42, in Athens, the first win in the series in eight years. He’d make it 4-for-4 in bowl appearances, going to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Johnson was first-team All-American, the fifth straight year Georgia Tech had a First-Teamer.

“When Coach Johnson came my last year, we switched the offense up. We had to practice against it every day, and it was really difficult for us, but it was fun watching them run through people on Saturday,” he said. “We had some big wins. Florida State, big goal line stand, Miami, I got my first pick-six, and then we were able to come back from down 16 and beat Georgia in Athens.

“I felt like we had a great, smooth transition,” he added. “I really enjoyed playing for Coach Gailey and his staff. When Coach Johnson came in, it was fun to be a part of that and to kick off his first year the way we did. It was a lot of fun and it was cool that my last year was his inaugural year. I’m glad I was able to help him come in and set up shop and continue building and putting a good product on the field.”

Johnson was drafted in the third round (70th overall) by Cincinnati in the 2009 NFL Draft. After playing his first five seasons in The Queen City, he signed a four-year free-agent deal with Tampa Bay. But after one season was released. He was welcomed back to Cincinnati, where he’s been his usual durable and productive self. He’s started at least 15 games in each of his past five seasons with the Bengals, and enters the season with 44.0 sacks, 365 tackles (250 solo). His 35 stops last season matched his career best in 2012, when he also recorded a team-high 11.5 sacks and 2013.

He’s enjoyed seeing the city’s renaissance and being in the NFL for it.

“When I first came to Cincinnati, I remember, me and my buddy would ride around downtown on a Sunday evening and be like, ‘This is an NFL city. We should be seeing more people. There should be more stuff to do,’” he said. “That was 2009. Now, it’s totally different. They’ve improved a lot of the downtown areas. It’s been cool watching a city transform.

“As far as the NFL, it’s been a fun ride,” he added. “The main thing that I’ve enjoyed getting out of it is the impact that it’s had beyond me. The platform the professional athlete has is tremendous, and I’ve tried to do my best to use it for positive for fans and my community.”

Johnson also took care of some personal unfinished business at Tech, as in 2015, he completed his degree in business administration.

“It was something I started. You always want to finish what you start,” he said. “I’m always in school talking to kids about the importance of education. I wanted to make sure I was holding up my end. Walk it like you talk it. Plus, having a degree from Georgia Tech means a lot because not just anybody can go to Tech.”

While he may not be able to attend the induction ceremony — the Bengals have a regular-season game that weekend in Charlotte, N.C., against the Carolina Panthers — Johnson’s gratitude toward Moore, who will introduce him, and Georgia Tech remain resolute.

“I thank God for all the blessings in my life. My parents for providing me with foundation. My wife, my family, my coaches, my teachers, everyone who has played a role,” he said. “I’m thankful to even be thought of and to be remembered like that. It’s something I’ll be able to bring my kids to one day and show them and people that know me, fans, whatever will be able to see it as well. That will be cool.”

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