Johnny Sears is headed back to where his collegiate career started.
When Eastern Michigan and Michigan match up this Saturday at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor it will be quite a familiar feel for Sears, a defensive back for Eastern.
The senior corner out of Edison High School in Fresno, Calif., committed to play at Michigan as part of its 2005 class, which includes the likes of current New York Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham and 2008 Big Ten all conference first-team punter Zoltan Mesko.
Sears red shirted for the Wolverines and appeared in eight games in 2006, posting 15 tackles. In 2007 the defensive back was mainly relegated to kickoff and punt return duties until September of that year when the Associated Press reported he was dismissed from the team for undisclosed reasons.
Sears, a 6-foot, 184-pound defensive back, was left questioning his decisions.
“It’s Michigan,” he said. “It’s a very prestigious school. It was a chance to have a better life. Going back home is not a good place to be, so it was better for me not being there. Going back I had a lot of time to think, change my ways, and change my life.
“It was a way to find myself. I wasn’t too much embarrassed because everybody makes mistakes in life, and where I come from a lot of people have made mistakes. But it was just the point that, how will I bounce back? It was just basically a heads up and an eye-opening experience.”
So Sears headed back to Fresno and started playing for a junior college. At times he wasn’t really sure what the future held.
“It was almost like a long shot,” Sears said at practice Tuesday evening. “I was on the practice squad on my junior college. I didn’t even get to play.
“Sometimes by myself I thought like, ‘Is it worth it?’ but then I felt like, ‘OK I really want to play football.’ That’s my love. It’s my escape from things. This is what I love to do so I just wanted to make sure I could do that.”
While playing for his junior college, Sears tried to stay grounded and on the straight and narrow while back at home.
“It was kind of good because my family would just strive for me to not quit,” he said. “It’s easy from where I come from to get caught up or just kind of lag and not really take head.
“I just try to keep myself headstrong and stay focused on what I really want to do, and I want to play football for a long time, and I knew that in order for me to do that I can’t stop. I needed to do everything and anything to get back.”
Luckily for Sears, the very coach who recruited him at Michigan was hired by Eastern to lead its football program. Ron English was the defensive coordinator at Michigan in 2006 and 2007.
“He’s the one that found me in little Fresno,” he said of English. “[English] came to one of my track workouts and from then on he just made some things happen.”
Besides not having a lot of options, Sears’ driving force in his decision to come to Eastern comes from his liking and understanding of English.
“He resembles my father and my high school coach,” he said. “He coaches hard. He really doesn’t tell you what you want to hear, he tells you what you need to hear no matter your feelings or whatever.
“But, it’s constructive criticism — it’s not like he’s doing it (on) a personal level. He’s just trying to get the best out of you and if he sees potential he’s going to try to get the most out of you he can. He keeps you tense, and he keeps you ready at all times.”
But with all of Sears’ history, while being given a second chance, there were some rules he had to understand and adhere to.
“I can’t have any mess ups in anything,” he said. “I have to be positive all the way, I have to buy into the program, I can’t be a distraction or a cancer, I have to be if not a vocal leader, a leader by example, work hard.
“Just basically do right and try to show what (English) wants, not just from a coaching but from a player aspect because we have history, and just try to help the teammates along who don’t know him or don’t know how he coaches.”
Though Sears is at Eastern now, he admitted initially it will be somewhat strange standing on the visitor side at the Big House.
“Probably at first, but I’ve gotten used to it now just being in this green and white. I’ve learned to love it. I’m an Eagle now,” Sears said.
Even though he might be at EMU now, he still has some ties with U-M, namely players he’ll be matching up against on Saturday.
“I know a couple of players still, still friends with a couple of them, I brought some of them in when they were freshman, so I’m just practicing hard trying to get some extra work in and get prepared for Saturday,” Sears said.
With a new jersey and a new lease on football, Sears decided he should change his long hair, too, having cut it recently.
“Just getting a new look, change my image, just something different,” he said. “Talking to coach E., he got in my ear and told me some good things, just to change up stuff. A new chance, a new shot, might as well have everything start over.”
Ultimately it’s been a long road for Sears, but he’s looking for redemption while trying to repay his coach.
“I’m just trying to make things from the mistakes that I’ve made and try to help him out as much as I can for him helping me out more than he even knew what he did,” he said.