Former Mountaineer Will Johnson Signs with Pittsburgh Steelers
Posted: Mar 19, 2012 5:25 PM EDT
Posted by Geoff Coyle -
Will Johnson is reaping the benefits of hard work and perseverance Monday, having signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers just days after impressing scouts at West Virginia University's Pro Day.
On Friday, the former Mountaineer receiver and tight end showed off the results of months of training both in the weight room and on the field. His workout was such a success that he received a special visit when it was over before he even left the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility.
It came from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert.
"When I got done running my routes, I was over there talking to [Tomlin] and he wanted me to keep it a secret so the other teams didn't know," Johnson said as he traveled back to North Carolina from Pittsburgh. "They said they liked what I did, they liked how I look and they wanted to bring me up and sign me."
This was no ordinary scout. The head coach and general manager, the two individuals with the most control over personnel decisions, wanted Johnson on their team.
He had just finished benching 225 pounds 30 times – the most anyone put up all day – and an agent on site clocked him at 4.49 seconds in his 40-yard-dash, though he never got an official time from the scouts on hand.
His routes were crisp and even had former teammates buzzing about how well he was performing. Anyone who knows Johnson would have first been struck by how jacked, for lack of better words, he appeared. He attributes much of his progression to the work he's put in with the popular CrossFit workout regimen.
"I recommend that to anyone and everybody," says Johnson. "It definitely helped my body and you can tell. I only weigh one pound heavier than I did last year, but I look a lot bigger. I weighed in at 242 and last year I wasn't nearly as strong as I am this year."
Johnson felt confident a year ago that he had a good showing with scouts in attendance, but the way the lockout went into effect shortly after left him without a home.
He lost contact with the organizations that were interested and when the lockout lifted, it was difficult to get back on their radars.
In the meantime, he needed money to sustain himself and to continue to train. He got three jobs and began working as much as he could at crafts that did not give him the satisfaction of playing football.
"They were all temporary. I was doing interior landscaping, working at a shipping warehouse and working with light technicians installing lights," he says. "Doing that and working out was definitely a grind."
Despite the tough times and long hours, Johnson never considered giving up on his dream and in December he went into full training mode so that when his next opportunity arose, he could seize it.
"It was one of the toughest times I've gone through, honestly, with so much uncertainty and not knowing where you're going to end up or if you're even going to get a chance. The only thing I could do is just keep working at it," Johnson says. "It's a blessing to be able to say I signed with the Steelers, so I'm going to take it and run with the opportunity."
The Ohio native feels that his situation is made even better due to the fact that he has other former Mountaineers on his team. Ryan Mundy and Mortty Ivy are currently with the Steelers and Wes Lyons was signing with Pittsburgh at the same time Johnson was on Monday.
"There are people to get advice from and keep you going straight, so whatever I have to do to make this roster will help," says Johnson.
A player who filled multiple roles at WVU, Johnson believes his position coach will be Kirby Wilson, who is in charge of running backs. He has not been told specifically what his spot on the field will consist of, but he is preparing to play an H-back position where he can block for rushers, run the ball or run routes out of the backfield.
At this point, he is prepared for whatever is asked. He knows what a year without football is like, and he has no intentions of going back.
"Not at all. I plan on working harder now," he says. "It eases my mind that I'm actually working toward a specific goal now."
Johnson will report to Pittsburgh sometime after the NFL Draft to continue chasing his dream. For now, he has a good place to start.