Johnson says with a laugh, "if you're good at football, you don't have to
go to class. I have to admit, though: Even if I wasn't good, I still wouldn't
have gone to class."
In fact, academic
issues nearly cost Johnson his career. He graduated from Miami Beach High only
after attending night summer school classes; and at Langston University, an
NAIA school in Oklahoma, he lost a year of eligibility when he was thrown off
the team for fighting. After transferring to Santa Monica and playing in 1997,
he lost another year to academic ineligibility in 1998. "The question was,
Would he ever play?" says Collins. He had wasted two years already. He was
barely getting the grades to stay in school. But when it came to football he
was a sponge."
At SMCC, Johnson
was part of arguably the best community college receiving corps in history,
with Steve Smith and future Arena footballer Eugene Sykes. "There was
something about him," Collins says. "You could see that he was
passionate about football. He was sloppy, wild--but he could run."
Collins, who had
worked with such NFL stars as Isaac Bruce and Keyshawn Johnson, is a specialist
at developing elite wide receivers. He taught Johnson route-running discipline
and how to read defenses. "He just soaked it up," says Collins.
"That year he was ineligible, we worked through all of it--on when the
safety sits heavy in his stance, when he's light in his stance, when he has a
quick-jump type of stance, which shoulder to attack. We worked on how to get a
DB turned if he has inside position. Chad was obsessed. He would think about
this stuff, watch football and call me at home--early morning, late night, all
During that year
of ineligibility, Collins had Johnson work out with some college players he was
training--future NFL defensive backs Charles Mincy and Ricky Manning and future
CFL defensive back Kelly Malveaux. "These were some of the best college
guys in the country," says Collins. "He just began to eat them alive.
His ability to get them turned, beat them out of the break, get leverage. Those
guys were coming up to me afterward and saying, 'He's good, Coach.'"
Dennis Erickson, then the coach at Oregon State, about this young prospect.
Erickson watched tape and immediately liked what he saw. "And if Charlie
Collins says they can play, well, they can play," says Erickson.
Even with Division
I schools expressing interest, Johnson finished the 1999 season at Santa Monica
18 credits shy of qualifying academically for the NCAA. "I told him, You
make these 18 credits and I'll get you a scholarship," says Collins.
Johnson spent the summer of 2000 shuttling between three Los Angeles summer
programs to make up the six classes he needed. "My window was closing,"
says Johnson, "but when I set my mind to it, I can do the
Four days before
the start of Oregon State's football practice, Chad was declared eligible. He
would spend four months in Corvallis, playing with future Bengals running mate
Houshmandzadeh, but that would coincide with the best Beavers season in a
generation. Oregon State went 11--1, earned a share of the Pac-10 championship
and beat Notre Dame 41--9 in the Fiesta Bowl. Johnson had 37 catches for 806
yards and eight touchdowns that season. "T.J. did everything for me,"
Johnson says. "We would be in the huddle, I wouldn't know the plays, and he
would signal me what to do. Without him I wouldn't have made it."
drafted by Cincinnati in 2001-- Johnson with the 36th pick and Houshmandzadeh
with the 204th--the two have remained locker room neighbors. "We're like
family," says Houshmandzadeh. "I can say a lot of things to Chad that
other guys can't, both in football and other things."
accepted Johnson's antics as a motivational tool. "Everybody has fear of
failure," Houshmandzadeh says. " Chad just goes about it in different
ways. If you make it this far, with the odds against guys like us, you are so
afraid to fail. So Chad puts it out there, and then he has no choice but to