P Cort Johnson (AP)
Cort Johnson isn't going to unseat incumbent Mike Scifres. However, that doesn't mean he should be overlooked during training camp. Johnson will keep Scifres fresh into the season while he auditions for the other 31 teams in the league. As Johnson shares in this exclusive interview, it is not a bad gig.
Cort Johnson knew he was not going to get drafted. He graduated from Div. II West Texas A&M in 2008 and spent last season out of football, so his only chance was to catch on as a free agent. He expected that route to carry him to Tampa Bay, as he had worked out for the Bucs a week before the draft. However, his plans quickly changed.
Shortly before the draft, the Bucs contacted Johnson and told him they would not be adding a punter. Then, on the third day of the draft, Tampa Bay spent its sixth-round pick on Virginia Tech punter Brent Bowden.
"I was actually OK with that," said Johnson of Tampa Bay's double-talk. "The day before the draft [Chargers special teams coach] Steve Crosby called me, so that gave me some relief, because I did not know what was going to happen."
San Diego had a lot to offer Johnson, including beautiful weather, a veteran coach in Steve Crosby, and a savvy mentor in Mike Scifres. Also, Crosby teased the possibility of preseason playing time, which was a big factor.
While the Chargers could not offer Johnson a realistic shot at making the final 53-man roster, they offered him a chance to extend the pursuit of his dream.
"I graduated in 2008, so I put my life on hold turned down some jobs to pursue my dream," Johnson said. "I definitely have the heart and determination to do it. It was a great sacrifice to put my life on hold, to train on my own, to spend money of my own -- money that sometimes I didn't have -- just to get noticed."
That's the biggest difference between college and the NFL: The former is a sport; the latter is a business.
"In college it's more leisure and fun. The business part was the classroom," Johnson said. "The NFL is just straight football. That's all you're doing."
Johnson is OK with getting down to business. He did exactly that at West Texas A&M, where as a senior he led the Lone Star Conference with a 43.2-yard punting average.
He believes his time with the Buffaloes prepared him well for his shot in San Diego.
"We had six coaches at West Texas A&M who played in the NFL," Johnson said. "We had D-linemen who would tell us about the next level and what it takes to be there. Also, we had a great strength and conditioning coach who had worked with [Chargers strength and conditioning coach] Jeff Hurd."
San Diego's coaching staff is working with Johnson on his consistency and patience. The latter issue is more pressing, as Johnson must re-learn to punt in the face of an oncoming rush, something he has not done in his year-plus away from live action.
Johnson is striving to keep his nerves in check and to fine-tune his routine, being careful not to rush or over-swing. He is also making sure he soaks in every pointer and enjoys every moment, because tomorrow is never promised to a backup punter in the NFL.
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