During the 2006 football season, a junior defensive back at the University of Tennessee found himself looking up at the sky and asking God for comfort as he could not get back on his feet after an injury he had just sustained on the field in Neyland Stadium.
Injuoris (Inky) Johnson had been hurt before and his toughness had always helped him get up and walk to the sidelines. However, a hit on Air Force running back Justin Handley somehow felt different.
Johnson, being tired of the flow of the game told his team in the huddle that he was going to make a tackle, force a fumble and score after recovering the ball. Johnson saw the play happening as the running back cleared the line, got past the linebackers and streaked down the sideline toward his direction.
Johnson took a good angle and hit the ball carrier, making a much needed stop for his team. It was then he realized that he was hurt in a manner that he had never felt before.
Unable to move, he could hear his teammates telling him to get up. His reply, “I can’t.”
Trainers and doctors came to him and started the process of stabilization. He heard them say things such as backboard and neck brace all the while thinking it was precautionary.
In reality, his life had just changed.
Johnson was carted off the field to the cheers of the Volunteer fans which he acknowledged by waving his left hand. Johnson didn’t know it at the time, but his football career was over.
Just as NFL scouts were looking at him, his football career was all over.
Football became second to survival when he arrived at the hospital. Specialists told him he had internal bleeding in his shoulder from an artery that had burst on the impact, along with severe nerve damage.
Surgery was required, saving his life. At the same time, they realized the extent of his nerve damage. Dreams of the NFL and bringing his family from the hard life were sadly erased.
Johnson underwent an additional surgery later to possibly regain some movement in his right arm and hand with very limited success. He went through several years of rehab.
Again, Johnson said he spoke to God and He answered.
It was clear to Johnson that he was given a chance to use his story to inspire others — and that is exactly what he chose to do.
Johnson appeared at Lincoln Memorial University Jan. 27 and recounted this story to a large group including media, students, coaches and instructors assembled in the Math and Science Auditorium.
A $1 donation to the St. Jude Children’s Hospital was requested and given by many.
Johnson told of his upbringing in a tough part of Georgia, all the way through becoming a coach and speaker.
Eyes swelled with tears as his story resonated with his audience.
Johnson made one final point, saying “At the end of the day make sure you have emptied your bucket. What I mean by that is to give your all as an athlete, coach, student, instructor or whatever it is that you do. Don’t leave any effort in the bottom of your bucket, use it all up.”
After Johnson concluded, he was asked about the U.T. program and his football coaching desires. He replied, “The program is in great shape with Coach Jones and I’m getting close to rejoining the staff. We are in talks and hopefully it will happen.”
When looking back at his life as an athlete, he was asked to describe himself in one word.
Johnson replied, “Overcomer.”
When asked to describe himself now in a single word he said, “Grateful.”
“We need to be grateful or thankful for everything in our lives and be sure we completely empty that bucket of our’s daily,” he said.
Allen Earl may be reached at 423-626-3222 or on Twitter @pitchadude.