By Matt Winkeljohn
Much has changed for Michael Johnson, and it goes well beyond the fact that the Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive end is thicker than when he played for Georgia Tech.
He’s back on campus, and taking three classes toward an eventual business administration degree. Class is not the same as it was for him from 2005-2009, when he was drafted in the third round by Cincinnati. There’s a difference between a student and a student-athlete.
“I’m a much more confident student now. When I go in class, I’m prepared, I’m rested,” Johnson said the other day. “I’m not rushing from workouts or rushing from here to there. I have my classes spaced the way I want them. I can take class after 1 o’clock.”
The 6-foot-7 Johnson goes about 275 pounds now, or about 20 more than when he left the Yellow Jackets.
His last season with Tech was special; he had nine sacks, forced three fumbles, broke up seven passes, blocked a field goal, recovered a fumble and returned an interception for the Jackets in ’08 despite battling injury.
He’s become steadily more effective for the Bengals while playing end and outside linebacker. After racking up a career-high 11.5 sacks for Cincinnati last fall, he’s up for his second contract. It will be rewarding, although Johnson is not much interested in talking about that stuff.
He’s getting quite a kick out of this student business.
“Most of my classes are second- and third-year students so they’re 20 and 21,” he said. “When they ask me, ‘What year are you?’ Well, technically … I’m in my last year, but I got here in 2005. They’re like, ‘You’re old.'”
Johnson laughs at the telling.
School makes more sense now, however. He also returned to take classes in 2011, and after this semester he will need eight hours for a degree. The goal is to wrap it up this semester next year.
“I’m taking a financial management class that as a college student I couldn’t grasp,” Johnson said. “After four years of seeing checks, and taxes and this and that, I have a much better understanding and a greater appreciation for it. Now, when I’m sitting in class, I’m applying it to my life.
“These classes are hitting the nail right on the head. Even the science class that I’m taking, [Earth and Atmospheric Sciences], I probably won’t use it, but I even have an appreciation for that. Just listening to why atmosphere works the way it does, why the environment is the way it is … it’s all interesting to me.”