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A Closer Look: Cort Johnson
SAN DIEGO – Punter Cort Johnson is an unlikely candidate to earn a roster spot in San Diego behind Mike Scifres.
But his presence with an NFL team during the offseason is a tale of its own.
A few months ago, Johnson was a substitute teacher in Amarillo, Texas, a former Division II punter a year removed from graduation. He turned down a full-time job interview to keep his NFL dream alive in what some would consider a vain and unreasonable quest.
While thousands of his peers eased into life after college football, he had to shovel snow for an hour to clear a lane for himself to hone his craft on an empty field.
“I kicked for like 40 minutes because my foot was frozen, but I had to do it, you know?” he said. “It was a lot to get here. When you graduate, you can lose your mentality, because you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m done.’ But I’ve been so driven since I was little to get here.
“It’s a good feeling to get this far. I don’t want to settle for it, but no one can ever take away from me that I made it to this point, you know?”
He lifted after school and took a yoga class twice a week, but like an old-time cowboy, he was on his own. No coaches, no teammates, no advice.
Speaking of cowboys, the man who spent almost his entire life in West Texas speaks with a deep twang, loves motor sports and professes his faith.
If a Chargers fan wanted to pick a dinner companion, Johnson would not be a bad selection on pure conversational value. Sitting in a leather chair aimed at a flatscreen TV in the Chargers Park locker room, Johnson paused mid-sentence. He saw something on the scroll, a report about the team signing left tackle Tra Thomas.
“Is it official?” Johnson said with genuine curiosity. “He’s a big dude!”
An unknown player at an isolated position with less than an average chance to stick around could become terse and closed, but he’s frank, perhaps because he accepts his circumstances.
“Scifres is one of the best. He’s kind of in a league of his own,” Johnson said. “I may never be as good as him, but I can take some things from him, like his work ethic. Some things on his form that I may not do.
“I’m trying to be the best punter I can, but I know he’s legit. I’m here to try to hopefully get looks from other teams. We’ll see.”
Johnson led the Lone Star Conference with 43.2 yards per punt as a senior in 2008. Currently there are six former Buffs on NFL rosters, including Charly Martin with the Carolina Panthers. Martin went through training camp in San Diego last season.
Grateful for the resources available to him at Chargers Park, and eager to apply them to his game, Johnson also is gaining some perspective outside of West Texas, where he’s spent most all of his 24 years.
“It’s funny, I was like, ‘I wanna get out of this town, blah blah blah,’ but you kind of eat your words,” he said. “(Amarillo) is always going to be home. I’m sure it would be a lot different if (I wasn’t staying in a hotel) for a month and a half.”