LEON JOHNSON isn't sure what he wants to do with his life whenever the football part of it is over. He only knows he wants to try to make the world a better place, wherever and however he's able.
"I want to do anything where I can positively impact someone else, whether it's just standing on the corner helping people across the street or standing in front of a camera telling people what's going on that day," said the 6-5, 320-pound offensive lineman, a two-year starter who'll be a fifth-year senior for Temple next season. "I think that's what's important. You can make all the money you want, have all the things we value as young people, but I think when the lights go out at night, you have to ask yourself if you were a positive influence on something or somebody."
It takes only about five minutes of being around him to get that he's hardly your average student-athlete. He's very much into the big picture, of what he can be and what he can give. From a guy who's already helped the Owls to consecutive 10-win seasons, the best two-year run in program history. Still, he sees a lot more out there. On the field and hopefully well beyond.
"Short backstory," said Johnson, an advertising major who is interning this semester at Comcast SportsNet. "My grandmother, one of her favorite anchormen was Don Lemon from CNN. This was early in his career. A young black man on CNN was a big deal. She really instilled that thought into me. It's why I chose communications.
"When I played Madden or NBA basketball on my video game, I would actually mute the television and I'd do the commentary myself. So that's kind of how I got into it. I wouldn't record it. It was just something I'd do for me. I don't think anyone else on this planet knows I did that. You're the first person I've ever told."
At Comcast, he does a number of things, all in the name of getting experience.
"You can learn all you want, but there's nothing better than actually doing it," Johnson stressed. "If, say, the Flyers are playing the Hurricanes, I'm logging that game, like Dale Weise gets a goal, so the guys who do the postgame shows have the map. And I'll stand in on interviews. I'm there, watching John Clark or Marshall Harris do their job.
"I look at advertising as pretty much (encompassing) everything. When I tweet something, like I put out one for the bone-marrow registry we're having on Wednesday, that's advertising. It doesn't have to be traditional. I'm keeping my spectrum wide open. I think I have the skills, and the personality, to work well in different ways. Communications is communications. Maybe I could be on-air, or even behind the camera.
"I like the culture (at CSN). There's such a camaraderie within that office. They're a team. They need each other, just like we do here. I'm used to being on the sports side of it. Now I'm looking at it from reporting what happened. It's interesting."
Johnson, whose real first name is Hubert (Leon is his dad's name, and his middle name), grew up as an only child in Plainfield, N.J. Like a lot of other kids, he could have gone either way. Fortunately, he chose wisely. And made it. But he knows what the flip side might have been.
"It was rough," he remembered. "But I had everything I needed. My mom and dad did a great job. Young on, I really didn't want for anything. But I could see things around me. Violence, drugs, stuff like that. It just happens in most inner cities.
"I lost a lot of friends to different things. I just saw something different for myself. I knew the right way. Again, because of how I was raised. People are a product of their experiences. I've been around a lot, and seen a lot. I got into my fair share of things. We all have. I just wanted something better. I didn't want to put my mother through anything. She bent over backwards for me. How could I repay her by making her come for a jail visit or even something worse? I didn't want to get caught up in that life . . .
"I had a situation with my grades (at Bound Brook High School). Probably 90 percent of the guys here would tell you the same thing. I'm a 3.0 GPA now. I am proud I was able to go to college, for free, and go home and know my mom can see the things I'm doing. I just try to be a good person. I use Twitter as an outlet. If I'm on there I'm always saying something motivational or positive, talking about something that's going on. If one person sees something I say and it does something positive that makes them live their lives a little differently, that's fine with me. Even if they don't retweet it. That's my goal."
He's sitting out the final spring practice of his career, after undergoing surgeries following the season to repair injuries to his shoulder, hip and groin. Injuries he played with all through the 2016 season. So for now he's mostly a cheerleader for his linemates and the rest of the team, which has a new coach in former Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, who was brought in after his friend Matt Rhule left after four seasons for Baylor. Things won't be quite the same. That doesn't mean the Owls - who are coming off their first conference (American Athletic) title in 47 years - have to stop winning big.
"From a leadership standpoint, it's hard not being on the field, because I'm supposed to regulate a certain standard to some degree," Johnson said. "What I'm telling them to do, I can't do myself. I played last year because Phil (Walker) and Haason (Reddick) and Jahad (Thomas) meant more to me than being hurt. We're like a band of brothers. Everything is about playing for the person next to you. That's the only way you can be successful in a team setting.
"Even in a class, if you're in a group of four and have to get a project done, if you're not on the same page with each other, you really get no progress. If all 11 guys aren't working together, there's a slim chance the play will work. First I want to make sure I rehab the right way, and then just do anything I can to get the guys going. I can actually give feedback from another perspective now, almost like a coach. And it might mean more coming from a peer. I'm not a real vocal guy. I'll say something when I need to. There's a level of respect and responsibility that goes with that. So sometimes that's enough. (Rhule) gave us the keys. We drove the car. I'm one of the upperclassmen now."
Indeed he is. Sure sounds like someone worth following.