Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Road to Recovery

Johnson in his last professional stint as part of the Green Bay Blizzard (left); Johnson in his first year as a pro with the Wyoming Cavalry (right)

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty. I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
- Theodore Roosevelt

The journey to achieve one's dream no matter the path in life is never a straight line. There are ups, downs and all-arounds. If there's one person who knows the struggle to succeed, it's Ricardo Johnson. The former Graceland University receiver has had his own roller coaster of emotions over the last few years leading to his current return to football this spring.

Knowing Ricardo over the last few years, it's easy for me to look beyond the numbers and see a guy who is hungry to prove himself on the gridiron again. Johnson's pro career began when he was signed by the Salina Bombers out of Kansas, then shortly after he was brought on with the Wyoming Cavalry. As an IFL rookie, he snagged 59 catches for 541 yards and 9 touchdowns:

"We had a good offense in Wyoming. The coaching staff was excellent. We aired it out a lot I remember."

Ricardo showed glimpses of what he could do, making the arena wall his friend on more than one occasion with impressive grabs. His next chance would take the Maryland native to Green Bay, Wisconsin to play for the Blizzard. He'd only tally 2 catches for 16 yards before succumbing to an injury.

It's the fall, and Ricardo is wrapping up his rehab for an injured patella tendon having started in June. It was a partial tear.

"It had been bothering me for a while, then it finally gave out when I was running routes one day," Johnson told me.

The injury forced him to miss the rest of the season. The chance to step back on the field is one Johnson has been anticipating for a long time.

"I wasn't myself. Not playing or even practicing and watching the games messes with you. It feels better than it had. I'm getting stronger every day and working on lateral movements as well as my speed. The confidence is coming back."

That confidence can be attributed to Johnson's trainer, Coach Steel. Speed training is big, and Steel helps Johnson with his all-around technique and training every day. Each morning begins at 9 am for Johnson with speed drills. His route-running is in the afternoon, three times a week.

Johnson's journey has taken him from Iowa, to Kansas and Wisconsin and back to Maryland. Currently the former Jacket is training hard in Miami for his upcoming season with the San Angelo Bandits of the CIF.

"My coach from Green Bay, Meadow Lemon, was the general manager for the Portland Thunder last year. He knows my style, and had a close relationship with my agent."

Johnson's agent is Erik Echols out of Extreme Sports Management in Millersville, Maryland. The duo have been together for two years, forming a strong relationship.

"He keeps me in the loop on everything and really works hard."

Ricardo is also familiar with San Angelo's quarterback, Chris Mitchell. The two worked together in the offseason with the Louisiana Swashbucklers of the PIFL. Johnson would leave before the season began, playing three games with the Philadelphia Soul of the AFL as a practice player.

Johnson's primary focus has been route-running, practicing at Soccerdom in Landover, Maryland. Part of his motivation has been Leo Brown who will be part of the Blizzard this upcoming season.

"Leo went to school with my sister. He's a defensive back with a good sense for the ball and schemes. He'll be able to learn from one of the best DB's in the IFL, Jamie Bender."

Another valuable person for Ricardo has been Anttonio Brown. No, not that Antonio Brown. It is spelled with two "t's". The former Virginia University of Lynchburg standout reached out toe Johnson after signing with the team last year.

"We had similar friends, so I wanted to form a bond with Ricardo," Brown said. "We got really right and can joke or talk about anything. But when it comes to training, there's definitely competition."

Brown noticed Johnson's progress.

"He doesn’t think he's where he wants to be. About two weeks ago, I could see him getting his stride back. Speed training alone is progress. Trust the process. Hes still trying to get comfortable, but it's coming along. Its in God’s hands."

Those are pretty good hands to be in. Ricardo places his faith in God just as he hopes Mitchell will place the ball in his hands many times over this upcoming season. 
 "I prayed every day. God doesn't make mistakes. My setback was all for a comeback. I want to lead the league in yards and receptions. I want to be the best receiver in the league. Most importantly, I want to get a championship for Coach Lemon. I want to thank Green Bay for helping me through my injury."

While in Miami, Jonson works with his friend from Wyoming, Samuel Charles. Charles played for the AFL's Spokane Shock. The Shock receiver and Ricardo bonded over their injuries, as Charles had just come off LCL surgery. 

"He's like a brother to me," said Johnson. 

Charles me be like a brother to Ricardo, but his immediate family comes first. He has two little brothers and two sisters. Johnson's dad, Michael has been a guiding light for the twenty-eight year old. 

"He's very supportive. He reiterates I should never take anything for granted. It can be taken away from you like that. Just things as simple as walking and running I'll never take for granted again since I know how hard it is to come back from injury. I'll be hungrier than ever before."

Ricardo's confidence is back as is health. His voracious appetite to be great and insatiable work ethic makes it him a force to be reckoned with this spring with the San Angelo Bandits. 

Eat up, Ricardo.

Like it? Love it? Let me know @SeanNeutron

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Blizzard 2016 Running Diary

8:22 AM: A little more than a dusting covers the ground while a harsh wind permeates the air. It may not be here yet, but this is all I can think of:

8:45 AM: Yep, still nothing substantial.  Despite this, Virginia drivers prove they still have no clue how to drive when merely threatened by bad weather. Thursday's inch was only a preview:

In their defense, roads were not prepped at all.

9:38 AM: At the grocery store, a customer pulls out their checkbook a midst a massive line that borders on a mob. I hit their checkbook out of their hands and add a Dikembe Mutumbo finger wave as I mouth, "no". They look at me astonished, and the rest of the shoppers look at me as a hero.

10:03 AM: Customer: Do you have ice melt?

Me: No.

10:04 AM: Customer: Do you have ice melt?

Me: Non.

10:05 AM: Customer: Do you have ice melt?

Me: Nein.

10:06 AM: Customer: Do you have ice melt?

Me: Ne.

(Repeated that dialogue 500 more times over the course of the next few hours.)

1:01 PM:  According to my sources*, it is, in fact, snowing.

*58 girls over Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Reports indicate the scene outside is " a winter wonderland," "OMG so pretty", "totes adorbs" and  "what I've been waiting for all winter". Those in the field are battling such conditions by drinking their favorite beverage while under a soft blanket and watching Netflix.

3:08 PM: Finally home, I binge watch the rest of Making a Murderer. I feel fully capable that I could represent a wrongfully convicted person in the court of law.

::looks into law schools online::

3:10 PM: If I see one more photo of a yardstick....

3:13 PM: The news confirms everything we already know. I have prepared my own advice for you to avoid watching the redundant newscasts:

3:34 PM: Neighboring child rings doorbell.

Child: Do you want to build-


4:13 PM: According to my sources* in Florida and Texas, it is, in fact, not snowing there.

* Friends via social media with such groundbreaking updates like "don't miss Virginia" and "No snow here".

 8:13 PM: Time for the first round of shoveling. Bundled up with the mobility of the Michelin Man, I am ready to do this.

8:16 PM: I am in no way prepared to do this.

8:17 PM: So THIS is why people have kids.

8:18 PM: ::Looks at flamethrowers on Ebay::

8:24 PM: ::Prays a full Rosary::

8:23 PM: Back outside, a neighbor waves to me. Cannot make eye contact, or the guilt to assist them will weigh heavily on my soul.

8:24 PM: ::Makes eye contact:: Shit.

8:24 PM:  ::assists overly talkative neighbor::

::contemplates burying self in snow to end it::

::contemplates burying neighbor in snow to end it::

8:34 PM: I can't feel my face when I'm with you, because we're shoveling. #thisweekend

8:45 PM: Finishes assisting without committing homicide.

9:13 PM: I have now been away from my phone for a full hour. ::scratches neck nervously:: ::trembles::

9:38 PM: Round one is complete. But this may be how I die. ::hops on WebMD::

9:54 PM: Concludes it is just a back spasm and not imminent death. Self medication includes Icy Hot and alcohol.

10:03 PM: I've seen so much white while shoveling, I can't even look in the mirror for the rest of the weekend.

*More updates as they become available.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron.