Follow your heart: Former Eagle, SU grad now teaching youths
Serious injury ended Ron Johnson’s NFL career in 2004
By C.J. LOVELACE
Although he was a victim of unfortunate circumstance, the story of Ron
Johnson in football didn’t end in 2004 when doctors told him he
couldn’t return to the Philadelphia Eagles defensive line.
Johnson, a 2002 grad and standout defensive end at Shippensburg
University, joined the Eagles as an unsigned rookie free agent on Oct.
9, 2003, and coaches began to notice his hard work on the field
throughout his first season.
“Going into my second year, talking with coaches, they were excited,”
said Johnson. “They told me that I was going to have more
responsibilities, I was going to play more … and unfortunately I got
In the Eagles’ final 2004 preseason game, Johnson lined up for a goal
line stand against the New York Jets when disaster struck. While
making a hit, Johnson felt a sharp pain and pop in his lower back.
Johnson played through the pain and finished the game, but he paid for
it the next morning.
“The next day I couldn’t walk,” he said. “I felt numbness in my foot
and lower left leg. It was scary. I almost fell on the ground when I
got up out of bed, and I couldn’t feel my left leg from the knee
Diagnosed with a ruptured disc in his back and severe nerve damage,
doctors told Johnson he would never be cleared to sport the green and
white – or any NFL colors – ever again.
And just as quickly as his NFL career took off, it ended.
Johnson, however, a speech communications major at SU, took his
talents and knowledge to a new medium – teaching.
All through college and his brief stint in the pros, Johnson regularly
helped out and taught at football camps, he said. This led him to
start his own brand of camp.
This past week, about 40 local kids got the opportunity to learn from
a pro at Ron’s Rising Star youth football camp, held at the
Southampton (Cumberland) Township Park, located along Airport Road.
It was the first time the camp has been held in Shippensburg, but
Johnson said he plans to host it every year around this time.
In the hot sun Wednesday at the park, the 6-foot-5-inch Johnson towers
over many of his small, younger campers as they do conditioning
drills. The camp is all about teaching kids the fundamentals of
football and giving them an advantage when it comes time to dig in on
the gridiron for real. For kids ages 6 to 18, all skill levels and
positions are welcome.
“After I got injured, I wanted to continue to teach kids,” said
Johnson, a York native. “Since I can’t play everyday, since I can’t
play on Sundays anymore … the best thing for me to do, in my heart, is
to teach kids all the things I learned from little league football to
high school to college and the professional level.”
Using himself as an example, Johnson also stresses the importance of
getting a quality education and not taking anything in life for
“I thought I could play football the rest of my life in the NFL, and
it came to such an abrupt stop,” he said. “It’s not just about
football. We teach them about life skills, too.”
In addition to Johnson, who travels and gives speeches to schools,
businesses and other organizations about overcoming life’s obstacles,
the camp regularly hosts speakers who stress the importance of
schooling and following your dreams, in any capacity.
Reflecting on his once-promising past, Johnson said it took him years
to get over the fact that he couldn’t suit up next to the guys he’d
become such good friends with in just a year’s time.
“It takes awhile, it takes time, but it’s just one of those obstacles
that you’ve got to get through in life,” he said. “That’s why it’s
important to get a good education and move forward. I didn’t plan on
having to put a suit and tie on so fast, but at least I was ready for
Still today, Johnson, 30, feels the effects of his injury. Every three
months, he visits his doctor for an epidural shot and treatment, and
he says he’ll continue to need surgeries as time goes by. However, he refuses to dwell on the negatives, which is a reflection
of his positive attitude and drive to be the best he can be,
especially in this new role with his campers.
Coming from SU, a Division II football program, Johnson had to work
hard for everything he’s earned.
“I was determined to be the best and get to the highest level,” he
said. “Even though I’m injured, I still carry on that attitude and
that drive to be the best that I can to show these kids the best that
I can in everything.
“I wish I could’ve done it forever (playing football) and I miss it
every day, but this is where my heart is – teaching kids football.”
For more information about Ron’s Rising Stars youth football camp,
If you’d like to contact Ron directly, you can send an e-mail to: email@example.com.