One can’t open a magazine, skim a website or watch the daily news, and not hear of another celebrity having to “re-invent him/herself”. This usually comes after a movie that bombs, an album that does the same, or even upon release from rehab. Stars have to almost go through a “re-birth”; urging the public to forget what it already knows and accept a new direction.
Being in LA, it’s commonplace for actors, singers, talk show hosts being forced to do this, but rarely does an athlete have to. Such is the case in USC’s WR, Ronald Johnson. He went from being a highly recruited high school All-American to virtually forgotten in just 4 years. Yet, he has battled and fought through frustrations and injuries, to being a player that everyone must watch for come USC’s Pro Day and NFL Draft in April. Rojo is in the midst of re-inventing himself into a draft steal.
“I’m not an emotional guy”, Johnson admitted, with an even louder admission of his own disappointment and despondency , “I was frustrated, even though I would never (have) show(n) it. I worked my butt off every off-season to be that guy; to be the man and it didn’t happen like I thought it would in my senior year.”. As RoJo commented on his senior year at USC, his voice echoed the downfall in his production and his sulkened shoulders mimicked his dwindled contribution to the offense.
His frustrations are completely warranted; he went from returning 25 kick-offs in his freshman year, to 4 in his Senior and had to further share duties with freshman Robert Woods, as they both had 64 receptions.
Even after missing 5 games with a broken collarbone at the beginning of his Junior year, Johnson still led the team in receptions
As part of a potentially explosive offense, new coach Lane Kiffin had a hard time getting him involved. Johnson was not used in the vertical game, but was optioned for hitches and swing passes; 2 plays that do not utilize RoJo’s blazing speed as an advantage. He caught everything, but could not rack up those yards after catch that resulted in long TDs years before (45, 47, 49 & 63 yards).
So after what many had would described as an underperforming USC career, Johnson headed to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, after the 2010 season.
“I was very excited for the Senior Bowl. It was a glimpse of what the Combines would look like. It was a transition from football to a job interview. It was also a test for my concentration and focus.”.
What Johnson didn’t expect the Senior Bowl to test, was his patience.
Although he was one of the top skilled WRs at the Senior Bowl, an obviously weak class of South QBs could not hit him. Displaying his great speed and reliable hands were not enough as he went virtually unnoticed during practices and just caught 1 pass for 12 yards in the game.
“I just didn’t get the looks”.
As easily as he had been forgotten, Johnson had to forget the Senior Bowl and move on to the NFL Combine. He hit his training at Elite Sports Factory hard; maybe a little too hard.
RoJo focused on his best asset – his speed. But, the accumulation of his career and final season at USC, coupled with the Senior Bowl experience, caused Johnson to train too aggressively and he injured his hamstring.
“I was so bent on running 4.3…bursting out as fast as I could, tensing up when I’m supposed to be loose…that what caused my hamstring to go.”
Adjusting his training for an injured hamstring, the speedy WR headed to Indy nonetheless, and still ran an impressive 4.4.
“I only tested it once to see if it would hold. I kept running consistent 4.4s in training. I went to the Combine and ran the same thing I ran here (in training), with a messed up hamstring. “
After running the 40-yard dash and catching just one route, Johnson tweaked the same hamstring again and had to pull himself out of the Combine.
“I felt so bad. I saw all the other guys running routes. As a technique player at a detailed position, I figured I would have made my money at that time. Everyone’s there and everyone’s watching and being the great route runner that I want to be, I felt that I would have outshone a lot of players.”.
“I was on myself a lot. I was on myself hard. To the point where I felt disappointed, like I didn’t go out there and do what I was supposed to do.”.
Frustrated and injured, but not dejected, Johnson decided to re-invent himself.
After understanding that his biggest weakness was his strength, he targeted his upper body in his training.
“When I came back, I decided that I needed to gain weight. So I began eating, lifting weights hard, dong everything I needed to, even though I couldn’t run hard.”
“I eat a lot; 2 meals here; then 2 more at home. I was frustrated from the Senior Bowl so I had to improve in that area.”
The result is a body and upper body strength that finally equals his scorching speed. Gone is his once wiry, lanky frame and in is a solid, muscular build. His powerful and well-built chest, shoulders and arms are an impressive answer to the request that many scouts had for Johnson. It was the only thing that he lacked to go up on draft boards. Such an attention to detail and sharp improvement are both areas that are coveted by NFL teams, as it is important to know that a young player can accept criticism, and more importantly, improve himself.
His reinvention started at the Senior Bowl, where when given a chance to speak with his team coaches, he inquired about his performance and urged for areas to improve.
“I picked their brains. I always asked how I could do better, even if I did it right. I can always perfect.”.
Now, a player whose strength was in question, RoJo repped 225lbs a much improved, 25 times.
And this was in training.
“I am in a great part in my life regarding football. I’ve seen so many results; I’ve gotten faster, stronger, bigger. I know a lot more about myself now. “
Relentless on his pursuit of improvement, RoJo trains up to 3 times per day, including weights at Elite, speed with former Olympic Gold Medalist and World Record holder, Maurice Green and film.
“Everyday I’m doing something to make myself better. Watching guys like DeSean Jackson and other guys that are successful. Lifting weights at my condo, pushups, sit-ups, P90x…I wanna be great. I see Jerry Rice and what he did as a 6-foot receiver. I wanna bring something new to the game.”.
Johnson’s reinvention may already be complete. When he worked out privately for the Philadelphia Eagles, the coaches told him that, he is “well polished and like an NFL player already.”.
As Ronald Johnson looks forward to his March 30th Pro Day at USC, he is doing so without the frustrations of his past Trojan seasons, an underwhelming Senior Bowl or even a disappointing Combine. He is doing so with a new excitement and confidence, knowing that he has done all that was needed of him, and more, to evolve into an exciting NFL receiver and electrifying returner.
“I look back over the Senior Bowl and Combine and know why coaches are not looking at me like they should, or why there are guys ahead of me that shouldn’t be. I take it as when and where I go (in the 2011 NFL Draft) doesn’t matter. I got the mindset that whatever team I go to we’re gonna have a great chance (at winning the Super Bowl).”
“I do things that other receivers don’t do, while they’re sleeping, I’m working. Working with my trainers and picking their brains constantly. I wanna be perfect at what I do and if you give me an opportunity, I promise I won’t let you down. That’s a promise that I can keep.”
Be prepared for the unveiling of the “new” Ronald Johnson, March 30th.