ATLANTA, Ga. — Senior defensive end Curtis Johnson of the private, historically black Clark Atlanta University says he wants sports fans in South Florida and across the nation to know a good thing when they see it.
He also wants National Football League scouts to take notice.
On Jan. 19 in Houston, Tx., Johnson began part of the process of opening doors and eyes at the 83rd Annual East-West Shrine Game, where he made history as the university’s first invite and participant to the game.
The 6’3, 242 pound Daktronics All-America candidate is from Syracuse, N.Y. originally, but currently lives in Lauderhill. He hopes NFL scouts keenly observed his abilities at the NFL combine in late February, also.
Johnson shines in two defensive categories at his small National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II (now known as the Football Championship Subdivision) school, in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Confer-ence (SIAC). He led the nation and set a single-season record in sacks with 13.5, and led the conference and nation in tackles for a loss with 27, which was the third-best season total in SIAC history. He also led the nation in forced fumbles with nine.
Johnson was one of many college prospects looking to turn heads and impress in this year’s crop of talent in Indianapolis, In., where players are tested in everything from vertical jump and 40-yard dash times, to IQ (Wonderlic Personnel Test) and cone drills. All of this is in preparation for the NFL draft in late April.
As the conference’s defensive player of the year and as a two-time, first-team All-SIAC member, he wants to take his skills to the next level among the best in the NFL, all in spite of his team’s disappointing 3-8 record this past season.
“It is always a pleasure to compete with the best of the best,” Johnson said. “It has always been a goal for me to play at the next level in the NFL.”
Johnson’s sister, Shani Bailey of Lauderhill, is one of his biggest supporters. She said she remembers that the road was a little bumpy for him in the beginning.
“I remember when he first got hit. He got the wind knocked out of him and he wanted to quit, but my parents would not let him,” Bailey said.
Johnson’s versatility is one of the major benefits for him so far, and may lead to a position change at linebacker, which he says he has no problem playing. Several teams have inquired about using him in a 3-4 scheme, which uses three linebackers. He currently ranks in the top 20 among draftees at his position. His speed, quickness and ball keenness all have scouts on alert.
“I feel very comfortable playing both (defensive end and linebacker), but if I am most effective playing linebacker based on whatever scheme the team has, then I will play there,” Johnson said.
Retired older brother J.R. Johnson played three years in the league for the Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders, and says longevity is one important factor that he wants his younger brother (Curtis) to keep in mind.
“Stay hungry and use that same hunger that you started with,” J.R. said. “I thought I would be there (in the league) for a long time, but it did not work out that way.”
Bailey says their parents always stressed the three Bs throughout Curtis’ career: the Bible, the books, and then ball.
Johnson has a winning formula no matter the outcome on the gridiron, as he pursues a bachelor’s degree in History. He says he wants to coach some day.
He said he plans to follow the advice of brother J.R., who said, “Put yourself in a position to win and not lose.”
Photo: Curtis Johnson