P Cort Johnson (AP)
Lost amid Saturday's action was the fact backup punter Cort Johnson kicked in a pro game for the first time. Some may dismiss this as insignificant, given that Johnson has zero chance of unseating Mike Scifres. But, as Johnson's coach from West Texas A&M explains, this journey is special.
Cort Johnson isn't trying to win a roster spot in San Diego. Not that he wouldn't love the opportunity; he just knows it's not in the cards. The Bolts have one of the top three punters in the league in Mike Scifres and only invited Johnson to camp to help shoulder some of Scifres' workload.
So why audition for a position that's already been filled?
"Over the past five years Cort has been a man on a mission to make an NFL roster," said West Texas A&M head coach Don Carthel. "I'm really tickled he got himself into camp in San Diego."
Johnson last punted at West Texas in 2008, when he led the Lone Star Conference with a an average of 43.2 yards per punt. He failed to catch on with an NFL team after his senior season, but rather than give up his dream, he worked independently to improve every facet of his game.
All the hard work paid off when the Chargers signed him as a free agent in April.
"He's an All-Conference player, a great kid and a great worker," Carthel said. "He was a team leader for three years here at West Texas."
Johnson is not like most kickers, who are often isolated from their teammates. He endeared himself to his college teammates by working hard and getting physical, often making tackles when a punt returner snuck past his coverage team.
It's tough for kickers to be considered team leaders, but that's what Johnson was in his college days.
"He is very aware of team chemistry, important things going on in the locker room or anything that might be of value to the team," Carthel said. "He always has ideas that can improve overall team chemistry. His leadership skills and interests in overall team aspects are very evident."
Now in the NFL, Johnson is at the bottom of the ladder and unlikely to climb much higher. However, he is fine with his current lot. He is kicking on pristine fields rather than empty lots; he is working with pro coaches instead of teaching himself; and he's witnessing daily clinics put on by Scifres.
When viewed from that angle, it's easy to see why he signed with in San Diego.
"Without a doubt it was the right decision," Carthel said. "He was talking to me as everything was unfolding [after the draft] and he was as excited as I was at the opportunity to get himself into a camp and have a chance to prove himself."
Johnson still has much to prove, with consistency sitting atop the list. He also needs to better his hang time to put his coverage team in better position.
He also must show he can handle pressure far exceeding anything he may have faced at West Texas A&M, including the Buffalos' postseason appearances.
If he can do that, he has a chance to prolong his dream. It won't happen in San Diego. But it might happen because of San Diego.
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