Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson is a spiritual person who includes a bible verse from Philippians at the top of his personal website (mj93.org).
But unlike the biblical character of Samson, Johnson is not concerned that his great strength comes from his long hair. In the past week, Michael has gradually gone from having long braids to the completely bald look.
“It was time for a change,” said Johnson. “It’s something that my mom has been petitioning for since I began to grow my hair. It feels good to cut if off – I probably should have done it a long time ago.”
Unfortunately, Johnson’s new look has been on display at practice for several days because he hasn’t had his helmet on. Michael has been sidelined with a sore back, but says his absence from drills is largely a matter of being cautious at this stage of training camp.
“Yes, I would say that,” Johnson told me. “We’re really not supposed to say much about that type of stuff, but everything is going to be fine.
“I’m staying involved mentally. I’m in all of the meetings, all of the practices, and making sure that I’m doing all of the walkthroughs. I’m trying to make sure that I get mental reps and keep my focus on this team and make sure that everything is going in the right direction on the field and with my rehab as well.”
The 26-year-old is coming off of his best season as Johnson tied for ninth in the NFL with 11.5 sacks. He was scheduled to become a free agent, but the Bengals used their franchise tag rights to retain his services for $11.1 million for this year.
It’s not uncommon for players to openly gripe when they are “tagged” instead of being given long-term extensions, but Johnson is not complaining.
“That’s just not the way I was taught,” said Johnson. “I was raised to believe that you show up for work, you go to work, and you do your best. You don’t gripe about stuff that you don’t have control over. I’m going to go out and work and we’ll see how things play out. I pray on the situation – me and my family – that things will work out for the best and obviously this is the best situation for both sides.
“Man, I’m from Selma, Alabama. I didn’t have everything that I wanted, but I had everything that I needed. It taught me that you don’t have to have the world to be happy and blessed. Sure you want to get as much as you can out of this game, but I’m thankful for the opportunity and I’m going to go out and do what I love to do and make the most of it. It’s a nice sum for one year and a whole of people don’t see something like that in their whole lifetime. I’m going to continue to work my tail off.”
Johnson’s work ethic extends to the classroom as he returned to Georgia Tech this winter. He’s three classes away from earning a degree in Business Administration.
“When you say that you went to Georgia Tech, people’s eyes light up,” Michael told me. “It’s like, ‘You weren’t playing around.’ It’s a great school and when I’m finished, I’ll be one of the select few who have earned a degree from there.
“It will feel better when I go out to talk to kids about the importance of education. I can say, ‘Look. I’m in the NFL and I went back to school and finished. It’s not something that I’m just saying; it’s something that I really believe in.’ I put my actions behind my words and kids enjoy when you actually do the stuff that you’re talking about.”
Whether he is bald or has braids, wearing a mortarboard at graduation will be Johnson’s best look yet.
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