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September 29, 2009

A sense of relief

It's late Monday night, and I'm not worried about getting the story first. My mind is elsewhere. I'm worried about the health of one of USC's most charismatic, likeable players.

When I first heard that Stafon Johnson had been seriously injured after a bar with over 250-pounds of weight fell onto his throat, I didn't think football. I didn't think journalism.

I thought about Johnson's life. I thought about how much people would miss his voice around a Trojan practice.

Johnson is more than a name or a number. He's not an anonymous guy with a helmet carrying the football. No, Johnson is a person with a huge personality, and he never let anyone forget it.

He's always gracious with his time after practice, even after jokingly telling USC sports information that he's too busy.

He didn't flinch when USC coaches reduced his role this season, asking him to sacrifice carries in order to serve as the team's short-yardage specialist.

No, Johnson put his team before his own goals.

This wasn't the same kid who struggled with his playing time as a freshman. This was a grown up. This was a father. This was what Stafon Johnson had become.

I hate thinking about how the team, the coaches and the USC fans would've reacted had this not been Johnson who was injured but one of his teammates. The sentiments would probably have been just have strong, but because it was Johnson, a hometown hero from nearby Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, the feelings were overwhelming.

Now, all those worries, prayers and concerns have been shifted to feelings of joy, relief and praise.

Late Monday night, Johnson came out of seven hours of surgery with a good prognosis. Doctors at California Hospital announced that after a lengthy procedure to correct "crushing injuries to his neck" and "severe laryngeal injuries," Johnson was expected to make a full recovery.

Whether or not Johnson ever plays football for USC or any other team remains to be seen, but the man inside of the jersey will be OK. He's a strong person with an incredibly strong support system.

And as I write these final words, I'm no longer worried for Stafon Johnson. I'm grateful he's alive, and I'm thankful for the relief.




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