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NFL Linebacker Has a Message of Hope For You

Shawn Brown - 700 Club Producer

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Steven Johnson knows first hand how difficult it can be to make it to the NFL. He says he’s blessed just for the opportunity play at this level.

“For me personally football has kind of been like my sanctuary, you know, when it comes to kind of how –making –how I praise God.”

He entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Denver Broncos in 2012. As a rising freshman in high school, it was a dream he was told would never happen.

“People used to tease me because I was slow, you know what I mean. And people were like, ‘oh you can’t beat anybody. You’re never going to be this, you’re never going to be that.’ You know what I mean. I’d be like man, I’m going to the NFL one day. And ha ha, they’d laugh at me, like you serious? You can’t even get on varsity,” said Steven.

Steven grew up in a Christian home in Media, PA. His father pushed him to be the best he could in football. When his parents divorced when he was 12, it shook up his world and his faith.

“You know, when my parents split up, that was a big thing that happened in my life, which really kind of pulled me away from Christ a little bit because I didn’t understand what was going on in my immediate household,” said Steven.

Steven moved in with his mother. Without his father around to push him, he lost focus. So, he wasn’t quite ready when tried out for his high school football team and didn’t make the varsity squad as expected.

‘“So my freshman year in high school, all of my friends, you know, most of my closest friends were all in varsity because we were all good in football. I was the one who ended up being on freshman year—freshman team. My sophomore year I played JV, all my friends were still on varsity. My junior year I played JV, all my friends were still on varsity.”

Steven says a defining moment in his journey was when a girl he knew embarrassed him in front of his friends.

“We were all sitting around the table, all my friends and she was just like man, you know, I kind of want a guy like that, like that. She seen me and she totally just skipped over me and was like or like that or like that. And for me, that was just the [snaps], it was just like the switch,” said Steven.

Steven was upset and wanted to make a change but didn’t know how. The next day, one of his friends invited him to a bible study.

“I was like yeah, yeah, I’ll come. Because of that girl. I was like look, I don’t want to be ugly, you know what I mean. I think I’m a pretty good looking dude, you know what I mean, I want what God has for me, you know, athletically, spiritually, you know, seeing how I look, how I’m appeared to other people. I was like, I want to change, you know what I mean. That’s when I was like, I’m going to make this decision to chase after Him and see what happens,” said Steven.

Steven continued going to his bible study. As he strengthened his relationship with God, it began to fuel his faith and desire to excel in football. Soon his hard work paid off.
Things just totally just turned over. It just totally just flipped. My weight done went up. I got taller. I got faster. You know, everything just started to work in my favor because of that one decision. I decided to go to church on that one Wednesday night.”  

By his senior year, Steven not only made the varsity squad, but he became a starter, a captain, and lead the state in tackles!  However, it wasn’t enough to grab the attention college scouts, so he went Wyoming Seminary. It was a prep school whose program would keep him on their radar. He had such a great season with the Blue Knights that bigger schools began to take notice. Then he got injured.

“The 5th game, 5th play, blew my knee out. That’s when, you know, the devil started to infiltrate my brain, it’s over. Oh well. I don't know why you’re here. You might as well go home. It’s done. It’s finished.”

Steven had surgery and began to rehab his knee. He became discouraged about his future in football. So he started praying for direction. Then he decided to reach out to schools that had shown interest before his injury. One of them took notice.

“I wrote this long letter to the University of Kansas, to an on-campus recruitment coordinator. And I was just like look, I want to play big time. I know I can do it. I’ll do everything I can in my power to get back. Just give me an opportunity to walk on and do something, you know what I mean,” said Steven.

Soon after, he was offered a walk on spot with the University of Kansas. Though he sat out the 2008 season, he hit the field with a vengeance in 2009 and was later offered a scholarship. By his senior season, he led the Big 12 Conference in tackles. Then in 2012, he was signed as an undrafted free agent with the Denver Broncos where he spent 3 seasons and helped the Broncos make it to Super Bowl XLVIII. After a short stint in Tennessee, he signed with the Steelers. As he continues to follow his dream, he says his #1 goal is to share God’s message of hope.

“You know, my foundation’s called the Faith Motivated Foundation. Because your faith will motivate you and take you farther than anything can. It’ll change your life, you know what I mean. It’ll make you the person who you really want to be deep down inside your heart. You know, He is a personal God. Just as much as He loves me, He loves you. He loves everybody in this world. He wants everybody to succeed. But for Him, even to me, if there was no Jesus, if there was no God, it just—it really wouldn’t be no me. I don't know where I’d be,” said Steven.

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