Larry Johnson has found a new home with the Redskins
Thursday, August 19, 2010; 11:14 PM
This was not Larry Johnson's first Redskins training camp. Growing up in La Plata, Md., Johnson's roots stretched deep into a community filled with passionate football fans, in many cases enemies who lived next door to one another.
"In our area, you were a Redskins fan or Cowboys fan," says the Redskins running back's father, Larry Johnson Sr. "And I wasn't a Cowboys fan."
When his two sons were younger, Johnson Sr. would take them to Redskins' training camp in Carlisle, Pa. A legend of sorts in high school coaching circles, Johnson Sr. would attend coaching clinics during camp while his sons ran around the practice fields, staring up in awe at giants like Charles Mann and Dexter Manley.
"People wonder now about why I sign autographs for such a long time," Johnson says. "Well, it goes back to when I first came to Redskins camp as a kid."
Two decades later, Johnson finds himself back at Redskins training camp this month as an adult, signing his name each day until every request has been satisfied, every photo autographed.
Johnson says the effort is not designed to rehabilitate his image. His turbulent time in Kansas City, where his problems off the field came to overshadow his on-the-field exploits, is past. He isn't in Washington to change people's perceptions. He's here because it's where he feels comfortable. He's here because it feels like home.
"With all the negative things that I've done, it kind of ends up on a positive note with me being in this situation right now," says Johnson, who is set to make his Redskins' debut Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens. "Being here and being accepted by Coach [Mike] Shanahan and [General Manager] Bruce Allen, I have a great shot of succeeding here."
This also could be viewed as Johnson's last shot. Playing a position that favors the young, Johnson is four years removed from his last 1,000-yard season. Around the league, there are those who question his character and those who question his ability to again be an effective runner.
But Johnson says he's where he wants to be: in a position to run like he hasn't run in years.
"He's 30 years old now, he understands where he's at," says Herm Edwards, Kansas City's head coach from 2006 to '08. "He's hearing that he's over the hill . . . that people think he's finished. I think he wants to prove people wrong. And in the past, that's when he's been at his best."
A father's tutelage
Johnson Sr. remembers when his son almost quit the game. He coached his boys when they reached playing age, running those youth practices just like he ran his high school teams, with similar drills, expectations and intensity level.
"I remember one time in practice, Larry and Tony were sitting down, looking for four-leaf clovers," says Johnson Sr. "They were just jumping all over, fooling around. At the dinner table that night, I told them, 'You guys can't do that. I'm coaching you, you have to pay attention like everyone else.' "