Rodriguez High graduate James-Michael Johnson, now a rookie linebacker for the Cleveland Browns, made his first trip to the Bay Area Sunday as a professional athlete when his team took on the Oakland Raiders. For Johnson, a fourth-round pick of the Browns from the University of Nevada, it fulfilled a dream.
“It was really big for me because it was always a dream of mine to play in the Oakland Coliseum and have my family and friends come watch me,” Johnson said. “I had probably about a hundred people I know there. It was a blessing.”
The Browns (4-8) snapped a 12-game road losing streak by beating the free-falling Raiders (3-9) by a score of 20-17. The Raiders were Johnson’s favorite team growing up, but now as a player, his favorite team is the one he wears a uniform for. He is excited about his team’s progress as well as their prospects in upcoming seasons.
“We are moving in the right direction. We are a real young team and we are not making as many mistakes as we did earlier in the season,” Johnson said. “One of the problems early in the season is we didn’t make enough plays to win the game. Now we are getting on a roll and feeling more confident. I can feel that the vibe is different than it was.”
Johnson is adjusting to life as a professional football player and heeds words of wisdom from numerous veteran teammates, including running back D’Qwell Jackson, and linebackers Scott Fujita and Kaluka Maiava who have helped him with on and off the field questions.
“In college they move you around and you go where they tell you to go, but here you have way more freedom to do what you want to do and it’s all on you,” Johnson said. “You have to watch more film, be a professional and do whatever it takes to be successful.”
Discipline and and a hard work ethic were instilled by Johnson’s father whom he cited as his inspiration. Though he admits to being “hard-headed” at times, his father’s unwavering support paid off. Johnson also carried a philosophy he learned in college to the pros.
“My college coach used to always tell us to never take a back seat to anybody,” Johnson said. “The University of Nevada wasn’t a huge school, but we played big schools and we looked at it like when we stepped on the field with those players, we all tied our shoes and put on our pads the same way. Our coach said don’t let anybody push you around and I took that to heart.”
Johnson missed the first five games of the season with an oblique injury with the Browns going 0-5 in that span. With Johnson in the starting lineup at strongside linebacker, Cleveland has gone 3-3 since with the 6-foot-1, 240-pounder making 28 tackles, 17 of them solo. He had a career-high 10 tackles in a 7-6 victory over the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 28.
Rodriguez High opened in 2001 and already has two players who have made it to the National Football League—Johnson and wide receiver Stevie Johnson (no relation) of the Buffalo Bills. James-Michael Johnson attributes the fulfilling of his dream to hard work and stubborn stick-to-it-tive-ness.
“I set goals for myself and and didn’t let anything get between me and them. There are a bunch of distractions in life, but once you get those out of the way and achieve your goal, then you can enjoy it,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s Fairfield alma mater’s football team ended up with a 3-7 record this year and the Mustang-turned-Cleveland Browns linebacker had some words of encouragement for them.
“I have a shout out for the Rodriguez High football team to keep their heads up. They have another season next year to come back hard. Keep working hard because it pays off,” Johnson said.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org