Following is a question-and-answer session between Mel Kiper Jr. and Oregon State senior wide receiver Chad Johnson.
Mel Kiper Jr.: When you came out of the prep ranks in Miami, what were your options and tell me about the long journey to get where you are today?
Chad Johnson: I was recruited by the likes of Florida State and Miami (Fla.), but I didn't have the grades necessary to go there. Instead, I ended up at Langston. This was back in 1996. I was there to do one thing, play football. The academic part wasn't important to me. After being forced to leave Langston after just the one season, I came back to Miami. There, my grandmother, Bessie Flowers, did everything in her power to point me in the right direction.
This was really a turning point in my life. I wasn't going to get a job. I was only interested in playing football. If football wasn't a part of my life, there were three things that could have happened, and they were all bad. I would have likely been selling drugs, in jail or dead. I know I caused my grandmother to have a lot of sleepless nights worrying about me and the direction I was headed.
||If football wasn't a part of my life, there were three things that could have happened, and they were all bad. I would have likely been selling drugs, in jail or dead. ”
||— Chad Johnson
She continuously explained how important it was for me to get back into a college environment.
My grandmother had been a teacher and counselor within the Miami Dade Public School System for 40 years before she retired. She suggested that I leave Miami and go to Los Angeles to be with my mother. That's when I signed on at Santa Monica College. I played there in '97, then fell one credit short and was forced to sit out the '98 season. At that point, I felt like giving up. Maybe football wasn't meant for me.
My grandmother sat me down and we talked for at least three hours. She convinced me to go back to Santa Monica College for the '99 season. I worked to get my grades in order, then put together an outstanding season on the football field. At that point, I finally understood the concept that my goals in football couldn't be realized without a serious approach in the classroom.
UCLA, USC, San Diego State, Hawaii and Oregon State were all interested in having me sign on with their programs. Because of coach Erickson, I signed on at Oregon State. At the time, I told coach Erickson that I wouldn't disappoint him. Before I was able to put the pads on, I had to make up some credits at Santa Monica College. That's why I didn't take part in any practices at Oregon State until just three weeks before the season opener. In a very short time, I had to learn everything about the new offense. Initially, I was fourth on the depth chart. That was the reason for the slow start. By the third game, though, I was beginning to show the necessary progress.
Kiper: You were always working against top athletes in high school and also had to benefit from the input of your cousins, Keyshawn Johnson and Samari Rolle.
Johnson: That's true. At Miami Beach Senior High School, my teammates included Samari and Duane Starks. We also played against great football players such as Santana Moss, Marvin Minnis and Nate Webster. As far as Keyshawn and Samari are concerned, I look up to them a lot. I watch how they handle themselves but also want to be my own person and have my own individuality as a football player.
Kiper: Since this was your first and only season at the major-college level, when was the time that you realized you could develop into a super blue-chip wide receiver in the Pac-10?
Johnson: Remember, I joined the Oregon State football team just before the start of this season, and at the time I didn't know what major-college football was like. I had to learn quickly. Right away, I was working against a tremendous cornerback in practice. Believe me when I tell you, there isn't a better cornerback in the country than Dennis Weathersby. He's a great player. He'll be a fourth-year junior this coming season. After working against him every day in practice, I knew I could play with the best of them.
Kiper: In the Senior Bowl, you also had an opportunity to get a close look at highly rated Mississippi State cornerback Fred Smoot. What was your impression?
Johnson: We hung out the entire week together. We talked a lot. I was going to play my game, and he was going to play his. Smoot's the real deal. I wish I could fly him out here to the West Coast to work out with me every day. He has a big heart. He's 5-11 but plays like he's 6-3. He has great feet. He's quick, closes well and understands the position. He's The Man -- Smoot is going to be an outstanding player in the NFL.
Kiper: Who are your favorite NFL players?
Johnson: Keyshawn and Randy Moss. I try to take part of their game and use it every time I step on the field. Randy Moss knows he can take over a game at any time. With Keyshawn, it's the attitude and confidence level he has towards the game. He believes he's not coverable.
Kiper: Is there a particular NFL team you have followed closely over the years?
|Oregon State's Chad Johnson, left, fights off a tackle by Arizona's Michael Jolivette.|
Johnson: I love the Miami Dolphins. I would give anything to go back home and play for the Dolphins. Growing up, Mark Duper and Mark Clayton were my two favorites. However, on draft day, I will be excited and honored to go wherever I am selected. It doesn't matter. I'm just ready to go to work and begin my career in the NFL.
Kiper: In talking with you, Chad, you have so much energy and enthusiasm for the game. Your love for the game is obvious.
Johnson: Football is my life, there is no question about that. I have the physical part down. Now it's all mental. You have to use your mind in the NFL. Every player is smarter. Defensive backs bluff and disguise coverages to try to fool you. Now it becomes a mind game.
Kiper: What are your strengths as a wide receiver?
Johnson: My biggest asset is my combination of size and speed. My height gives me an advantage. Then it's my blistering speed. Also my hands. I'm a physical receiver yet can run and move like someone who is 5-8 or 5-9.
Kiper: How about weaknesses or areas you need to improve?
Johnson: As of right now, I don't have any weaknesses as a football player. Two to three years ago, it could have been my route-running. Now, though, I take great pride in my ability to run precise, disciplined routes and in the process understand what we're trying to accomplish. I feel I've become even more explosive out of my break.
Kiper: What are your accurate measureables and will you be working out at the combine meeting?
Johnson: I'm 6-2 and 198 pounds. My best 40 time is 4.27. I have a vertical jump of 40 inches. My maximum bench press is 315 pounds. And yes, I will be going through and participating in all the drills and testing at the combine workout. I invite the scrutiny. I want to show all of my skills to the NFL. I just wish it was a level playing field for all of the wide receivers. It would be great if all of the top wide-outs could be judged and evaluated at the same time, with everything being equal.
Kiper: How quickly do you expect to make a major impact in the NFL?
Johnson: I'm looking to do big things as a rookie, yet I understand the hard work, discipline and attention to detail that it takes to allow a player to make the successful transition to the NFL. Having Keyshawn and Samari to look up to has allowed me to understand this first hand.
Kiper: Five years down the road, what would you expect to have accomplished in the NFL?
Johnson: First of all, I hope to be injury-free if God blesses me like He has so far. I'm striving for and hope to be in the Pro Bowl four of my first five years. As I said, I plan on getting the job done in a big way as a rookie. I also want to play the game for a long time. In the end, after my NFL career is over, I want to be considered one of the greats to ever play the game. That's why I work so hard every day. Football is everything to me.
Kiper: Speaking of injuries, how have you fared from a physical standpoint throughout your football career thus far?
Johnson: Outside of a sprained ankle, I've never been injured.
Kiper: Who is the biggest influence in helping you get where you are today?
Johnson: There is no question about it, I wouldn't be where I am right now if it weren't for my grandmother.
Kiper: When all is said and done, how do you want people to remember Chad Johnson?
Johnson: As a very humble, nice person who had no off-the-field problems. On the field though, I'm a driven football player who refuses to be stopped. And as I said, I want be one of the greatest to ever play the game. I'm working hard every day in order to attain all of my goals. Winning Super Bowls is obviously at the top of the list.
WORD ASSOCIATION with CHAD JOHNSON:
Football: "My life, period."
Oregon State: "The backbone of my success. One step from being where I want to be."
Family: "I love them all."
Winning: "I love it, but I will never rub it in anyone's face."
Losing: "I hate it. I compete too hard to be losing."
Chad Johnson: "Exciting."
Toughest player faced: Rashad Bauman, CB, Oregon | "He's an excellent player. I beat him, but at the same time, it was a battle. He wasn't going to let me dominate him."
Best memory: "My 97-yard TD reception against Stanford."
Worst memory: "Losing to Washington. Our only loss of the season. I'll never forget the field-goal attempt going wide right with seconds remaining that would have allowed us to win the game in overtime."