Delano Johnson is trying to beat the NFL odds. (Lawrence Johnson)MARTINSVILLE, N.J. — It wasn't the Christmas break that Delano Johnson had hoped for.
He sat in his father's house in Baltimore, Md., on Christmas Eve, a college freshman who had typical plans of unwrapping gifts the next morning, catching up with friends from high school during the next few weeks and of course, sleeping in. Lots of sleeping in. It was supposed to be a carefree time for Johnson, but instead what happened next forever changed his life. Johnson was set to lose a person who he called his "hero and inspiration."
The phone rang with a call that came from his aunt's house, telling him that his mother had passed away. He was raised by her along with his three brothers, a woman who he said "put all of us on her back." His mother had succumbed to a "health problem that she had."
Instead of planning his winter break from college, Johnson readied himself for a funeral.
"I walked into the room and she was passed out - she wouldn't wake up," Johnson told Yahoo! Sports.
"They called an ambulance. They tried to revive and bring her back. They couldn't."
It never was an easy life for Johnson, who remembers following his mother from "home to home to home" as she tried to make ends meet and keep the family together. At 12 years old he was taken to live with his father, where he learned "how to be a man."
But at no point in time did he think that he was going to lose his mother without warning. And certainly not at a difficult time in his life when he was adjusting from high school to college, all while playing two sports at Bowie State.
Johnson was understandably depressed afterwards. But his mother's death became a rallying cry for him over time. He was always blessed with incredible physical gifts, but now he began to harness his ability on the football field and in the weight room. Solace was found with his teammates and workouts.
"I believe it was all from God - He gave it to me as an opportunity to show me that I need to take advantage of this opportunity and get serious about school, serious about work," Johnson said.
"But just going back home, realizing my situation and where I come from - I dealt with depression, a lot. I'd be up at nights and crying. Then it hit me that 'It's your time.' It felt to me like God did this for a reason, that it was a wake-up call for me to take advantage of college and sports."
Having grown up as a basketball star at Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Johnson picked up football in his junior year in high school. There was basketball offers from the College of Charleston and Kent State, and he was being recruited by Maryland, but he chose Bowie State because the school said he could play both sports. But after his mother's death, Johnson began to enjoy football a bit more. He gave up basketball after his sophomore season, focusing solely on his development as an outside linebacker.
"I wasn't thinking too much about playing football in college, but football was fun to me," Johnson said. "It's just a great game and lets you take away your mind from your stress and troubles.
"My second year in college, I started to put on some weight, started to understand the game more and I really fell in love with it. My coaches sat me down and helped me realize that I had an opportunity in football at the next level that I wouldn't have in basketball due to my size. It was an opportunity for me to help myself, help my family."
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