In our eight installment in this series, we were able to catch up with former Alabama All-American safety Rashad Johnson. To get the complete interview, click here:
At certain points in our lives, we may be faced with difficult decisions that can affect us positively or negatively for years. We sometimes have the opportunity to choose the easy route, or take a leap of faith and take the path of most resistance in hopes of a better outcome. For Rashad Johnson, the decision was simple — he wanted to take the challenge in his college destination, and that’s why he chose The University of Alabama.
Back in 2004, the Alabama Crimson Tide football program was beginning to see a shift from the previous year in which a 4-9 season almost caused the most diehard Alabama fan to jump off the proverbial cliff or if nothing else wallow in a sea of depression. When Rashad was deciding his college destination — which only consisted of a few serious offers — he wanted to take his talents to the place where he believed his dreams would come true. Many times, walk-on players are already known by the coaching staff to a certain degree as a roster of 100 plus individuals has to have players who are willing to challenge the scholarship players throughout the week in preparation for the next game. Those players are usually given a preferred status with a precursor of possibly playing their way into a scholarship.
For Rashad, he had no such offer. There was not a coach ringing his phone off the hook asking him to walk-on at Alabama and promising him he could earn his way into a scholarship. No, Rashad believed his God-given abilities were too good to waste at a lower division and with the help of his parents, a sacrifice was made to send him to Alabama with nothing but a dream and a determination to do what it took to earn his due.
So like most true walk-ons, Rashad suffered through the grueling workouts designed to break down the players who say they want to play big-time college ball but can’t handle the grind it takes to achieve such a goal. After a process that spanned for weeks, Rashad along with a handful of others who withstood the test of verbal lashings, running drills that lasted for hours, weight sessions designed to take ones will — he was now a member of the Alabama football team.
However, for Rashad, that simply wasn’t good enough. The thing is, each of those scholarship players had something he wanted. Being on the team was something Rashad already knew he was capable of accomplishing.
However, he wanted more.
He wanted to show the coaches, the current players, and his family that the hard work he put in the summer before arriving to campus was not done in vain. With the motivation from his father, the hard work that summer was for moments where others who may have grown up spoiled in the game with having coaches and fans fawn over them, never dreamed of doing what Rashad did every single day– just for the opportunity to show how great he was.
As an undersized running back at 5-foot-11 and about 175 pounds, Rashad’s natural ability, speed, quickness, and determination separated himself from the other walk-on running backs and that never showed more than a divine intervention moment during the spring of 2005 when every scholarship running back was out due to injury which forced Rashad, along with the other walk-ons to showcase themselves in front of thousands of Alabama fans in attendance. For those who were there, it was clear that No. 20 was a different breed. There was something special about him that the others clearly didn’t possess, and the coaching staff took notice.
The following fall, Rashad’s play in practice allowed him to earn a role on special teams and he did not disappoint. Constantly the first person down the field on kickoff, Rashad wanted to continue to earn his stripes and show he belonged. Yeah, he was a walk-on, but he meant so much more to the team solely from his dedication and the playmaking ability he displayed the entire season, including a caused fumble against Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
As frustration began to creep in, Rashad finally got the call he had been waiting for — or so he thought.
After a successful season in 2005 on special teams, Rashad more than caught the eyes of a few position coaches, but the man who ran the show in Coach Shula. However, the news Rashad had been waiting to hear for so long was not met with initial excitement, but a little bit of disappointment starting off. According to Rashad,
“It was the spring after the first semester, and coach Sparky Woods called me and said, ‘You may not play running back at Bama, but we may have an opportunity for you. (Roman) Harper and (Charlie) Peprah are leaving and would you consider switching over to safety? If so, you would have an opportunity to play next year.’ After that, I showed I could play and right after the bowl game, Shula called me to his office and told me they were putting me on scholarship and I was just happy.”
And with that emotion, a star was born.
From a nobody walk-on in 2004, Rashad went on to lead his team in tackles and interceptions in 2007 and the following year followed it up with another stellar season and had quite possibly the most memorable game and play of the year with his three interceptions against LSU as well as the game-changing play in overtime when he intercepted Jarrett Lee in the endzone, which subsequently allowed the Tide to win in the following possession.
Now, Rashad is continuing where he left off. After a third round selection in 2009 by the Arizona Cardinals, he was relegated to backup duty for the first few years of his career. Last year, in 2014, he got his shot in the starting lineup, and he did his thing and then some. He led the Cardinals in tackles with 93, interceptions with four where he returned two of them for touchdowns, which also led the team.
In the end, Rashad is thankful for where he is. The boy from Sulligent, Alabama, a town of less than 2,000 residents and one stoplight is making them proud each passing day with his commitment to excellence and not once forgetting where he came from. For the past five years, he’s put on a free football camp for the kids back home with the help of fellow NFL players. To give these kids the opportunity to become the next Rashad Johnson is another dream he would relish.
Rashad is taking things day by day and continuing to strengthen his walk with God and inspire others who have dreams to do the impossible. Rashad, the kid from a small town has achieved his dream and is doing it on the biggest of stages. The impossible indeed became possible for Rashad.