Less than one week ago, Florida Gators redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Roderick Johnson, a promising talent and the team’s best returning starter on the unit from a season ago, was told he must retire from football after being diagnosed with congenital cervical stenosis.
For the first time since the announcement, Johnson has decided to speak at length about the issue by releasing a statement through the school.
“Spinal stenosis — April 3 2015 — the day that changed my life. It’s hard to walk away from this game, and it’s dearly easy to fall In love with when you have the right mindset and the dedication.
“I enjoyed my time as a Gator from the first day I got that call from Coach [Will] Muschamp. I instantly fell in love with a school I didn’t like since I was a kid [Laughing]. I had a tough time trying to enroll due to my grades. I pulled through with the love and support from the UF staff.
“Taking the redshirt my first year was rough, so going into my freshmen redshirt year, I took it more serious. Listening to Coach [Mike] Summers coach and trusting his technique made me a great offensive linemen, and I always had heart, of course.
“It’s a tough time as I try to move forward, but I still have some positives on the situation. I get to stand and talk to you instead of being in a wheelchair. I would like to say thanks to the coaching staff from Coach Mac all the way down to the graduate assistants. Being in a highly powered offense, I wanted to prove I was a great athlete even when my knee bothered me sometimes.
“In looking forward to what the future brings, I look to be a great assistant coach and make sure these 2015 offensive linemen know what it takes to be a Gator, and for that, I love Gator Nation. You turned me from a boy to a man. I want to see my teammates be great because it can be taken away from you in just one play.”
Johnson, who started three games for Florida in 2014 and was expected to be an NFL prospect as soon as next season, received the official diagnosis last Monday. His medical condition was not discovered until he suffered a “stinger” in practice on April 3 that resulted in numbness of his hands. An MRI was done to ensure there were no other underlying medical issues, which is when doctors uncovered the cervical stenosis.
Since the initial announcement, Johnson has been vocal on Twitter about his love for the game and the Gators football program, keeping an upbeat mindset despite the difficult turn his life has taken this month.
Head coach Jim McElwain said Johnson’s diagnosis was a “blessing” because it was discovered before serious damage was done. He also noted that Johnson will be a “huge part” of Florida football going forward, likely in a student assistant role while on medical hardship.
Johnson called his relationship with Summers “priceless” back in January. Chances are the two will continue to work closely together over the next two or three years.
“Rod Johnson is just an absolute pleasure to be around, a kid that you just love to put your arm around and watch him grow,” Summers said three months ago. “He’s like a plant that you put water on and you just see him start to develop. He’s got such passion to be a great football player. I was so encouraged with what he was able to do this year.”