By MARK OLEJNICZAK
Anderson’s native son, Ken Johnson, came home to Anderson High School to share his inspirational message with students in Primus Mootry’s sophomore English class.
Johnson played with the Cincinnati Bengals from 1970 to 1977, and most Anderson residents will remember him as a basketball standout at Anderson High School, who stayed in state and attended Indiana University.
Now he is a part of the Sports World company based in Indianapolis. He travels around the country to talk to kids of all ages about the danger of substance abuse and alcohol.
Johnson’s message was a well-rounded one when he addressed the kids about success achieved, overcoming failure, always keeping faith and making the right decisions in life.
“LIfe is a wilderness you really don’t know what is around the corner,” Johnson said. “I share my experiences as an athlete from college to my transition to the NFL, when I speak to high school students. I like to teach the students that you have to be careful in life, because you will be confronted with decisions that can affect the rest of your life.”
Growing up, Johnson had a solid foundation in his family that played a strong part in his development. His mother provided and taught him the spiritual side of life, how prayer and faith can help you through the difficult times in life. Johnson’s father instilled discipline, teaching his son to avoid putting himself in bad situations that could lead to negative experiences.
“It was great to have my brother come home and share his story with the kids,” Carolyn Mootry said. “It just goes to show the students that if it happened to Ken, it could really happen to you. When he shares his life experiences with the students, I believe with Ken growing up here, it really helps get the point across to them.”
At Anderson High School, Johnson achieved All-State in football and basketball. With his athletic success came scholarship offers from all over the country, but Johnson chose I.U.
He had a successful collegiate career through his first three years at Indiana. His senior year led to disappointment and Johnson was ready to just to throw in the towel.
He was on the brink of a NBA career, but he made a bad decision to experiment with alcohol and drugs. The off-court abuse hurt Johnson’s potential as both a student and star athlete. Johnson’s scoring average dipped severely and for the first time in his career, he felt the wrath from fans with them booing their disapproval with his play.
Johnson admitted it was the most important year in his life, and he was blowing it. He shared with the students how he would persevere and turn things around, from a negative situation to a positive bright one.
In his senior season the Dallas Cowboys came calling and were interested in his athletic ability. Johnson hadn’t played football since his days at Anderson High School, but he was willing to see if he had the necessary speed to compete in the NFL. The Cowboys’ scouts tested his 40-yard dash time and Johnson ran a 4.8, which impressed the Cowboys scouts for a man of his size.
He eventually signed with the Cowboys.
“That was a true beginning for me,” Johnson said. “From total disappointment my life started to finally turn around.”
Johnson pointed out to the class, how the odds of someone walking on to an NFL team were against him, but he wanted to be the exception to the rule. Johnson had a successful training camp that summer, but he was caught in a numbers game for a roster spot. The Cowboys put him on waivers and the Cincinnati Bengals, who had previously scouted him, added him to their roster.
Johnson went on to enjoy a successful career with the Bengals, starting on the defensive line. He played during an era in the NFL when the league was really starting to grow and Monday Night Football was introduced to television viewers.
Johnson injured his knee in a game against the Miami Dolphins and things started to nose dive for him once again. He was then challenged by a teammate to give his life to Christ.
Johnson ended his speech, sharing a life altering spiritual experience with the Anderson High School students. He told the young adults, how he was driving his van headed down Locust Street, when he decided to try to outrun a train.
On the railroad tracks, Johnson’s van stalled and he was trapped on the tracks. Remarkably, he survived the accident that dragged his van about a 100 yards and left it totaled. This incident completely changed Johnson’s life as he only had to receive seven stitches and had some glass in his hair.
“This was a wake up call,” Johnson said. “It taught me life has real purpose given the ability to choose.”