On a cloudy, overcast Wednesday afternoon, athletes from across the country including National Football League free agent wide receiver and star Chad Johnson’s daughter, Cha’Iel Johnson competed on the fifth day of the 2013 Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympic Games at Rynearson Stadium.
Johnson, 8, finished second in her heat of the 100-meter dash semifinal in the eight and under age group with a time of 15.07 and fifth overall out of 24 participants.
“It is scary seeing her perform at a high level at eight years old and is it cool to see it in person,” Johnson said.
Seeing his daughter have the opportunity to excel at an early age puts things in perspective for Johnson because he was never given the same chances as Cha’Iel.
“I never had the opportunity growing up to be this active because it was all about football. I was average until about [age] 15 to 16 while attending Miami Beach Senior High School, when I began to peak in football.”
Once the realization set in that he had the talent to play at a higher level in football, Johnson ran with it and started his college career in 1997 at Langston University, in Langston, Okla., where he never got the opportunity to play.
Later that year, he transferred to Santa Monica Community College, in Santa Monica, Cal., then in 2000, transferred again, this time to Oregon State University, after then-head coach Dennis Erickson remembered Johnson from one of the camps he attended in his hometown of Miami, Fla.
“He (Erickson) remembered me from those camps and gave me a chance,” he said. “Erickson rarely took a gamble when it came to recruiting [Community College] players like me, but he was one for one and it paid off.”
Johnson’s proudest moment at Oregon State came when the Beavers defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl.
“I knew it would be something special that season and that game was the culmination of everything coming together,” Johnson said.
In April that year, he was drafted in the second round (36th overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Johnson and T.J. “Touraj” Houshmandzadeh, were college teammates at Oregon State and were reunited with the Bengals and put together one of the best wide receiver duos in the early to mid-2000’s.
Johnson played for the Bengals from 2001-10 and was traded to the New England Patriots on July 28, 2011, where he lasted for one season and was cut on June 7, 2012.
Johnson signed a contract with the Miami Dolphins on June 11, 2012.
In the blink of an eye, everything Johnson had worked hard for was flushed down the drain on Aug. 11, 2012, when he was arrested on a domestic violence charge, for head-butting his then wife Evelyn Lozada.
“Everything was uphill for 11 years in terms of my career and personal life, until that incident occurred and changed everything,” Johnson said.
Things changed, but for the worse as the Dolphins released Johnson the very next day.
Since the arrest and his subsequent release, Johnson has been out of professional football for almost a year, but it has not stopped him from seeing life from a different perspective, especially being around his children more often.
“I have been able to see the growth everyday because I am no longer going six months out of each year on the road, so it is different now because I get to take my kids to practice, pick them up from school, the whole nine yards,” he said.
Johnson knows that he has been blessed to play for 11 seasons in the NFL given that he grew up in Miami, at a time where the city was dominated by crime and drugs in the area.
“I came up from one of the roughest areas in the world and to be able to make it out of there and play for 11 seasons, where the average career in the NFL usually two to three is a blessing,” he said. “Legacy and hall of fame — man so what, I was never supposed to be at this point of my life, so I take everything else as a plus.”
As our conversation progressed, so did the crowd of fans who were all eager to get a picture with Johnson.
While Johnson was taking pictures on the rail between sections 105 and 106, up came from the mountain of kids, American track and field sprinter Tyson Gay to shake Johnson’s hand and take pictures with his kids.
Gay, who revealed back in May that he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in an out-of-competition test he took, did not comment on the matter.
Realizing the crowds were growing too large to continue the interview in the stands, I followed Johnson out of the stadium as he continued to take pictures with more fans and parents of the athletes.
Once we got outside the stadium, where it was less crowded, Johnson discussed his interaction with the Eastern Michigan University football players.
When asked about whether or not he has interacted with any of the EMU football players, Johnson explained that the contact was brief.
“I have ran into a few of the players, but have not had the opportunity to talk to them personally, but they seem very cool.”
There is no argument he is in the best shape of his career, Johnson, 35, however knows it will continue to be a journey to get invited to an NFL Training Camp after the events of last summer.
“All  teams know that there is no question that I am shape, but who would not be at this time of the year,” Johnson said. “I know I have [off the field] issues that have impacted my image. At the same, I would love to finish off my career the right way but I won’t let it affect my legacy.”
Follow Eugene Evans on Twitter @EasternEchoGeno.
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