Confidence is behind Johnson’s success


There are a lot of things wrong with the world.

A lot of things.

The list is just about endless. The country of Haiti is in dire straits after a devastating earthquake. The American economy is stuck in a prolonged rough patch. Unimaginable suffering continues in countries like Burma and Sudan.

But, at the risk of trivializing those wrongs in the world, here’s one thing that’s right: Stafon Johnson coming back to play in Saturday’s Senior Bowl.

Johnson, a former USC running back, ran the ball in his first appearance since a horrific accident in late September. He gained just three yards on four carries Saturday, but, honestly, it doesn’t matter.

Because the fact that he managed to come back — the fact that he managed to play a game of football just 124 days after he nearly died and crushed his neck and larynx — is so ridiculously inspirational in itself.

And the reason he came back so quickly?

Well, he faced adversity and embraced it.

He let it run its course and then he spun it on its head.

Basically, he just believed — even when few did.

“I knew I would come back,” Johnson told the Orlando Sentinel from Mobile, Ala., where he impressed NFL scouts all week in Senior Bowl practices. “I just didn’t know when it would be. Three years from now? Two years from now? I just knew I wasn’t going to give up.”

Altogether, Johnson’s story would make for a pretty good Hollywood script.

I can see it now: 21-year-old football player near the peak of his athletic prowess suffers a tragic injury and survives because he was “abnormally muscular.”

Doctors forecast he likely won’t be able to talk again, and the idea of ever playing football is forgotten in the fight to survive.

Life goes on, though, and people forget about him a little bit.

Two months later, said football player gives a dramatic, emotional news conference and says his first public words since the accident. He quotes his late grandfather in a goosebump-inspiring raspy whisper.

“God has a plan,” he says.

And boy, someone sure has a plan — or a script, at least.

Because nobody — save for Johnson himself, of course — could have thought he would come back this soon. Cliché, maybe. But his doctor said in November that it was a miracle caused by Johnson’s undyingly positive attitude.

Nobody thought he would take little more than the rest of the season to recover.

And nobody thought he would come back perhaps stronger than ever before.

In Mobile, Johnson weighed in at a prototypical 214 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame — heavier than he had ever weighed as a Trojan.

He looked shifty. He looked tough. He looked, well — “he didn’t look tentative at all,” as an anonymous NFL coach told the Los Angeles Times this week.

And he sure as hell looked excited.

“It’s wonderful to come here and play against some of the great guys in the country,” Johnson said in an interview during the game. “It’s awesome. I was more anxious than nervous to be here. I’m a football player. I’ve been playing all my life. I’m just happy to be here.”

And that’s Johnson for you. In a column that ran the Wednesday after his injury last September, I wrote: “He’s just a happy person.”

He is.

But he had one more quality that was more important than all of these.

He might have been abnormally muscular. He might have been abnormally strong-willed. He might have been abnormally happy for no reason.

But the most important thing — the reason he stands to be drafted in April and has a good shot at succeeding in the NFL — is he was confident.

Confident in God when others would have doubted.

Confident in doctors when there was every reason to be skeptical.

Confident in himself when few others were.

And that confidence can be applied to a lot of things in the world.

It’s not going to solve the world’s problems, and it’s not the solution to everything by any means. But simple confidence in one’s future — with God or not — is an important factor to recovery.

And one that’s often forgotten.

“Looking Past the X’s & O’s” runs Mondays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Pedro at pmoura@usc.edu.

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