Leonard Johnson runs against the Pittsburgh Panthers during their game at Wallace Wade Stadium in 2019.

Persistence helped undrafted free agent Leonard Johnson land the Giants deal


April 13, 2023 | 20:50

The timing of Leonard Johnson’s knee harm smelled worse than the odor of the plumbing job he took within the absence of soccer.

About two weeks earlier than the 2022 draft and about two weeks after solidifying his standing as a late-round prospect at Duke’s Professional Day, Johnson bent his leg throughout lateral conditioning drills in a follow on the College of Alabama-Birmingham.

UAB medical doctors dealt with Johnson with the care anticipated of an alumnus, however broke the dangerous information: torn ACL and torn meniscus.

At a time when different draft hopefuls might need thought-about their work completed, destiny appeared to punish Johnson for pushing tougher.

I received all these pre-draft calls and it is loopy that the very first thing they ask is, Are you wholesome? Johnson advised The Put up. I needed to inform them the reality. I feel 13 groups mentioned to me: Once you’re one hundred pc, tell us. Nicely deliver you up for a exercise. I did not hear from both crew after I used to be cleared.

The Giants weren’t so fast to overlook.

Johnson, 24, stories to East Rutherford on Monday for the crew’s offseason program and will start contending for a spot on a depleted cornerback depth chart simply 367 days after present process knee surgical procedure.

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Leonard Johnson runs towards the Pittsburgh Panthers throughout their recreation at Wallace Wade Stadium in 2019.
Getty Photos

Just a few months in the past, he was eradicating 100-pound septic tank caps and fixing leaking pipes close to his house in north Alabama.

I really feel like I’ve a lot extra to show as a result of I have not performed soccer in a 12 months, Johnson mentioned. I am simply so desirous to rehab with some NFL coaches who know all the things would be the proper means. After being harm, I may solely ask for one possibility. I used to be so shut, why ought to I simply hand over now, truthfully? I simply wish to go to New York and present what I can do, particularly with such a critical leg harm.

The Giants hosted Johnson for a personal exercise at their facility and despatched him for medical imaging final month earlier than signing him to a three-year, $2.69 million contract equal to what he would have acquired as an undrafted rookie in final season.

Eric Younger, the agent who caught by Johnson’s aspect, relayed the provide from the again of a market.

I used to be getting right into a hospital elevator, Johnson mentioned. If I might have been someplace else, I in all probability would have simply shouted. I used to be stupidly excited.

Johnson was the image of sturdiness at Duke.

In his ultimate 4 seasons, Johnson began 39 and missed one in every of a doable 48 video games.

The 6-foot, 194-pound slot nook recorded six interceptions, added physicality in run help and flashed velocity in press protection.

However his first important harm led him to a crossroads.

Ought to he use a acknowledged diploma one of many causes he attended Duke within the first place and use his main in sociology and minor in training and advertising and marketing administration?

Ought to he dedicate one hundred pc of his time to bodily remedy?

Leonard Johnson was understanding earlier than his harm in a follow on the College of Alabama-Birmingham.
Leonard Johnson

Or ought to he settle within the 1,342-person city of Hayden, Ala., splitting his time between harm rehabilitation and his first job, easing the monetary burden on his mother and father whereas staying on the radar of groups within the NFL, CFL , XFL and USFL?

I wanted cash for fuel to get forwards and backwards to remedy, Johnson mentioned. I simply felt so completely different being out of faculty and my mother and father nonetheless having to maintain me. I simply could not let it occur.

I’ve youthful guys who look as much as me in my small city and I am at house doing the identical factor they do on daily basis. At one level it felt embarrassing. It was a satisfaction. I needed to simply recover from it not gonna lie. I am glad I went by it as a result of it made me a greater man.

Johnson’s mom, a retail supervisor at a Walmart distribution middle, and his father, a building employee who lays asphalt for interstate bridges, needed their son to chase his dream.

He adopted their blue-collar methods, requested a pal’s father for a job at A&T Burrow Septic Tank and Sewer Service, and inadvertently made himself an underdog that any Giants fan can root for.

We had a grade on him final 12 months, an NFL scout mentioned. If wholesome, he may make the Giants roster because it stands proper now.

Is he wholesome?

Lenny appears just a little extra explosive now than he did earlier than, mentioned coach Justin Woodall, a former security at Alabama. He did not hand over on himself. He actually did not present frustration as a result of it may be hell proper earlier than the draft. The primary day he was cleaned up and able to go, man, he was within the lab able to go.

The alarm went off in time for Johnson to make it to his bodily remedy appointments at 7.00

That freed up his days to have a small half within the set up of septic tank subject traces for Anthony Burrow, which requires his workers to be on time, conscious of their environment and receptive to altering orders.

That sounds so much like Giants coach Brian Daboll’s good, powerful and dependable motto.

Leonard Johnson breaks up a cross meant for Virginia Tech large receiver Tayvion Robinson.

“I’ve identified Leonard just about his complete life, so there was no hesitation,” Burrow mentioned. I see his potential. After I see somebody making an attempt to do good on their very own, it is onerous for me to say no.

Johnson in all probability made a robust impression that Burrow, a Cowboys fan, can be impartial if he faces Dak Prescott this fall.

Some weeks had been sluggish.

Some included Saturday mornings as a result of the workload was too nice to complete in 5 days.

Johnson did not precisely make NFL rookie cash.

If I received paid on Friday, Johnson mentioned, after paying a couple of payments, it may simply be passed by subsequent Friday.

All of the whereas, Johnson’s agent supplied probably the most up-to-date rehab movies to NFL groups and tried to maintain his shopper in the suitable headspace.

We constructed loads of belief and he believed me once I advised him he would get alternatives to work out for groups when he received wholesome, Younger mentioned. I am happy with him as a result of so many guys in his place would lean on the agent like a financial institution as a substitute of claiming, let me use my fingers. To have a younger man like him prepared to be taught a commerce to help himself and nonetheless prepare and keep dedicated, he by no means wavered.

Johnson researched all the things he may on NFL tryouts and uncovered an outdated story a couple of postal employee who received his shot to be ready for March 20.

He suspected it would solely final 20 minutes so he wasn’t thrown for a loop because it was intense however brief.

Former Duke teammate Daniel Jones later despatched a prolonged message congratulating Johnson and welcoming him to the Giants.

I am positively a fan of Every part Occurs for a Motive, Johnson mentioned. When it occurred and the physician advised me, it hit onerous, however I did not need my mother and father to look down on me or make them really feel what I am going by. I used to be simply prepared to remain constructive and get to work.

New work tackle: 1925 Giants Drive.

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