February 10, 2010

Mississippi linebacker carries constant motivation

During each set in the weight room and every sprint on the football field, it stays on C.J. Johnson's mind.

It's there before, during and after all the snaps and adds energy for every tackle. When his constant motor begins to tire, it takes him the rest of the way. For Johnson, a star linebacker from Philadelphia, Miss., it is an overwhelming need to succeed.

To surpass a standard and to break away from a downtrodden trend that has become a crestfallen habit.

As the youngest sibling in his immediate family, Johnson has seen how bad choices and the need for second chances can take a toll on those he loves. So, Mississippi's best junior defensive player has spent years making sure he gets it right - from the beginning.

Johnson committed to Mississippi State during the last half of 2009, and he is moving on to the next part of the plan. As schools send interest his way, Johnson is doing his best to experience what each school has to offer. He understands the opportunity that is being presented.

He was recently named to the Rivals250 Watch List and has reeled in offers from Ole Miss, Alabama, LSU and others.

"This is a once in a lifetime chance that most people never get," Johnson said of the visits and recruiting process. "I'm very strongly committed to Mississippi State, but I'm going to take all my visits. I've never really left the state. I'm going to see what's out there before I come home."

Home. That's where it best resonates. See, Johnson's success is shared with his family. He sees it as success for his brother, his sisters and most of all for his mother and late father. It's his way of giving back and honoring all at once.

When Johnson was 13, his father died, and following that tragedy, his siblings struggled one-by-one. They've since rebounded, but Johnson still doesn't want to share those same scars.

One of Johnson's sisters failed to finish at Southern Miss the first time around, and the other did the same at Alcorn State. His brother was dismissed from the football team at Jackson State. The sisters are currently on their way to achieving degrees at Jackson State and Mississippi State, respectively.

"I don't want to say they failed because they've gotten their life on track," Johnson said. "But I'm the last one, and I've got to step it up. It's all about my attitude. I can't even comprehend being one of the best in the country, but if that's a chance I've got, then I've got to do what I can to make it happen. If I don't, I've let me mother down for the rest of her life."

Much is made of the bond between mother and son, and Johnson's relationship with his is a textbook way to define the phrase. Since his father's death, Johnson and his mother have relied on one another to deal, and location played a large role in his decision to commit to the Bulldogs.

"She's just started to get back in the dating thing, but I've got to be able to get home if something happens," Johnson said. "I can be there in 45 minutes from Starkville. I'm the baby in the family. I've got to be close to momma.

"I don't want her to worry. She's done enough of that without having to deal with mistakes by me."

REVELING IN HIS RECRUITMENT: When asked about the letters and attention from colleges, Johnson just laughs.

He understands the preciousness of the opportunity to visit a plethora of schools and decide where to spend the next four years of his life. Johnson respects the process and also sees it as several occasions to experience places with his mother.

A trip to Ole Miss began this current stretch two Saturdays ago for the Rebels' first junior day. Johnson was also in Oxford, Miss., for a practice prior to the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

"My mom really liked the facilities, and it was a neat time for her," Johnson said. "She really liked everything about Ole Miss. I'd been there several times, so it wasn't anything really new. I just got a better understanding, and the trip showed me things a little deeper."

Johnson will travel to junior days at Mississippi State, LSU and Tennessee in that order the next three weekends. While Johnson is currently set on MSU, LSU is the next school on his current list.

"LSU is no doubt second," Johnson said. "They were my first written offer, and Baton Rouge is just crazy. I want to see what campus life is like, and how the everyday is.

"Depth charts at all these places are very important. That's the main thing I'm really trying to focus on."

Recruiters are doing their best to dissuade Johnson from Starkville by pointing out what they believe are the Bulldogs' bad qualities. That strategy falls somewhat flat because Johnson doesn't argue. He, really, just agrees. The connections, including former teammate and current Bulldog Josh Boyd, far outweigh facilities and uniforms.

"Compared to places I've been, I think Mississippi State has some of the worst facilities in the SEC. No reason to be vague, I'm just putting it out there," Johnson said. "And they talk about how ugly of a color maroon is, but I'm not worried about any color. That's not what's important.

"I've got some unofficial visits and five official visits to take. Those are what's important. I want to be somewhere that I feel at home."

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