Ex-Mountaineer Johnson took long route to NFL success
NITRO, W.Va. -- From unheralded and undrafted to a year off, from three jobs and intense training to a long shot pro day in front of NFL scouts a year later, from a free agent signing to the scout team and finally to the starting lineup, former West Virginia tight end and current Pittsburgh Steelers fullback Will Johnson certainly took the long route to NFL prosperity.
On Saturday, Johnson got another confirmation that his hard work has paid off as a good number of Mountaineer and Steelers fans lined up at Collectibles, Etc., in the Nitro Marketplace to meet with and get autographs from Johnson.
It's certainly been a crazy ride on the path less traveled for Johnson, who now finds himself as a key offensive player for one of the NFL's most popular franchises.
The long road to NFL success has left Johnson thankful and appreciative of every snap.
"It's been a blessing," Johnson said. "It's been storybook. You don't hear too much about guys going back to pro days and getting an opportunity to make a roster. I'm definitely blessed with the opportunity and I think I've ran with it. Moving forward I'm very confident."
In addition to providing lead blocks and pass protection for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Johnson caught 15 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown in this his first season in the NFL.
But it's not about stats for the 6-foot-2, 238-pounder who, as he was in college, is happy doing the dirty work.
"The work ethic that [West Virginia] instilled," Johnson said, citing an important lesson learned in college. "Being surrounded by a lot of guys with a lot of talent [at WVU], I filled a role. That's basically my position here with the Steelers is to be that role guy with lead blocking or whatever they need me to do."
Johnson was left unsigned before the 2011 season and rededicated himself, holding down three jobs and throwing himself head-first into a CrossFit workout regimen.
The result was an impressive pro day in May in which he bench pressed 225 pounds 30 times, the most of anyone working out, and also ran an unofficial 4.49-second 40-yard dash.
It was more than enough to impress Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, who was in attendance along with general manager Kevin Colbert.
"[Tomlin] always said he doesn't care how you got there, he's always looking for players and he could tell I was a talented guy," Johnson said. "I think I fit this organization well with this work ethic they have and this blue-collar mentality they bring and I'm just excited to be there."
Steelers fans as well as Mountaineer fans are certainly excited that he's there, although Pittsburgh's uncharacteristic absence from the playoffs provided Johnson the time to visit with fans on Saturday.
As for the NFL's conference championship games today, Johnson admitted he doesn't follow other teams but did pledge his allegiances to bitter AFC North rival Baltimore as the Ravens play the New England Patriots for a trip to the Super Bowl.
"You always hope the division does well, so I guess that's who I'll have to root for," Johnson said.
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