Where are they now? Stephen Johnson reflects on his life since graduation


Quarterback Stephen Johnson #15 of the Kentucky Wildcats looks to pass during the second half of the TaxSlayer Bowl against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at EverBank Field on Saturday, December 31, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida. Photo by Addison Coffey | Staff.

For the last couple of football season, former Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson spent his Saturdays getting hit by SEC giants and Sundays healing for the next game.

Johnson has since retired from football to avoid spending most of his time recovering from injuries. Now, Johnson spends his Saturdays doing more leisurely activities, like golfing or hanging out at the beach.

“It was a sigh of relief to not get banged up every Saturday, but it was definitely hard at first,” Johnson said.

What was hard for Johnson was stepping away from the game that has surrounded his life for so long. Johnson had been playing tackle football since the seventh grade and had spent every fall since then strapping on his helmet and battling on the gridiron with his teammates.

However, after his 10th season of football, Johnson had enough with all the beatings that came with football and made the decision to retire from the game.

Sometimes when players retire they get back into the game because they end up missing it, but that has not been the case for Johnson, who recently threw a football for the first time when visiting his old coaches at the College of the Desert.

Johnson still does miss football, but he knows his future would be filled with uncertainty health-wise if he continued playing, which made the decision to hang up his cleats easier.

“With football being a huge part of my life for so long, having to cut it off, it sucked at first, but knowing the extent of my injuries, what I wanted to be doing in 40 years, if I continued playing football, that might not be possible,” he said.

Johnson had a long list of injuries during his football career, especially at Kentucky. He practically spent his entire senior season on the injury report and often made heroic plays in the game when many thought his body could not handle any more damage.

It turns out Johnson’s body did sustain a good amount of damage. Johnson suffered from concussions, shoulder injuries, knee injuries– you name it.

When Johnson retired, he had surgery on his left knee to repair a torn MCL and LCL from the 2016 season. Johnson was supposed to have double shoulder surgery but elected to skip it because the benefits would be marginal.

“Playing football for the next two to 20 years in the NFL, if that was an option, I don’t know if I’d be able to do that,” Johnson said. “Just cause how I’m built, my frame, the surgeries I’ve already had, the concussions I already had, all of that is just something I considered with football.”

As part of the recovery process, Johnson continues to do physical therapy twice a week, but is still not back to 100 percent.

“I feel great, mobility-wise I can move a little bit better than I was, but still can’t run all the way, that’s going to take time,” Johnson said.

Now that his football career is over and he graduated from Kentucky in December with a degree in agricultural economics, Johnson and his girlfriend have moved out to California to enjoy a more relaxing lifestyle.

As expected, Johnson spends his time hanging out on the beach, even though he said he has never surfed. Johnson also enjoys spending his time on the golf course, but he described his golf game as “mediocre”.

“It’s what me and my friends do, whenever we got time, we go out there, shank a few left and right and just enjoy each others’ time,” Johnson said.

However, with the play also comes work, and Johnson has found a good career with Premium Cabinets, where Johnson is the head sales representative.

“I really enjoy it, it’s great money,” Johnson said. “I see myself really making my own in about a year or so just to move on up with it.”

Even though his life is set in California, Johnson still returns to Kentucky from time to time to visit old teammates and coaches. Johnson recently came back to Kentucky for the Cats’ home opener against Central Michigan, and plans to do so near the end of September for Naquez Pringle’s birthday, and in the middle of October to be part of the Southland Church Men’s Conference.

Johnson will speak at the conference along with Kentucky baseball coach Nick Mingione.

“Kentucky is my second home, the relationships I’ve built here, the people I’ve really encountered with and just the place in general, I love it,” Johnson said.

When Johnson returns home to California, he stills finds himself connected to Kentucky with random interactions with fans.

“You’d be surprised, whether it’s at my job, if I’m talking to somebody and they recognize me from playing football or whether it’s just going out to eat in L.A. and somebody is wearing a Kentucky shirt and they kind of look at me and they’re like ‘I know you,’” Johnson said. “It’s cool to see that because BBN really does stretch everywhere.”