Vol for Life Inky Johnson had three things he hoped people would take away from his message Thursday evening at the Walker Valley football boosters banquet: faith in God, the ability to persevere and the will to never give up.
“The message, I think, is for any age group and not just high schoolers. As humans we plan so much of our lives out, we plan out tomorrow, we plan out the day after that and that goes in pocket with dreams, goals and aspirations. When things don’t go the way that we plan, my question to everybody is it really us failing or is God prevailing, because God has never made one mistake. I want to get people to realize that God has an incredible plan for our life even in our uncertainties, trials, oppositions or adversities,” Johnson declared.
Johnson’s story is one that Tennessee fans are especially familiar with, and is living proof that while we may view a situation as a negative one, God can turn that negative into a positive.
The then-junior cornerback, who was poised to have a bright future in the NFL, had his whole world rocked in a game against Air Force on Sept. 9, 2006, when a routine tackle turned into a career-ending, and almost life-ending injury.
“To be honest and totally transparent, I felt as if it was a bad dream because I had worked so hard. I never even thought about career-ending injuries, let alone one happening to me, because I had sacrificed, dedicated myself and embraced the process. Everything they said that I had to do in order to make it, I did that. Now when this happened I was like ‘No man, it can’t be.’ Once reality set in, I was never mad at God, not one time. The whole time I viewed it as He had protected me my whole life and he still was protecting me even in the midst of this what I considered to be unfortunate situation,” Johnson explained.
“There’s no telling what God is about to do with your situation, and now we’re seeing what he had planned … when this happened I thought it was the worst thing that could ever happen to me, but it has turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me, and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”
Johnson’s number at Tennessee while playing for coach Philip Fulmer was 29, and the No. 29 will always hold immense value in his life.
“Jeremiah 29:11 reads ‘For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you, not to harm you. Plans to give you hope in the future.’ I’m living that — it’s one thing to quote Scripture, it’s another thing to live Scripture,” Johnson stated. “The dream that I had for myself was to go to the NFL, and in 2006 that dream got declined. Now, watching God move and manifest certain things in my life, and the impact that I have on people now, compared to when I played football is even bigger. Seeing God do that in my life has let me know that He has an incredible plan for me.”
The VFL’s resume can now list many things: radio show host, author, mentor, but when asked, his real job is being a husband and father.
“That’s always my No. 1, all other things are just extracurricular activities,” Johnson declared.
During his inspirational message, Johnson relayed stories of his rough start in the rough inner city of Atlanta, which gave him the drive and determination to focus solely on changing his own and his family’s situation.
“I think you can be blinded by your own ambition. The reason I was so focused was due to my family situation. When I grew up we lived in a two-bedroom home in one of the roughest areas in America. There were 14 of us and I used to sleep on the floor — when I did get the opportunity to sleep in bed there would be six of us, three at the foot and three at the head. I had this dream and goal for my family to have a better life, so I wanted to give everything I had to my craft. It wasn’t one of those deals where I neglected God, it was just one of those things where God had something else in store for me. Sports was a vehicle where He trained me and molded me for what I’m doing now.”
Twenty years old at the time of his life-altering injury, Johnson reflected on the overwhelming support he received, and still receives, from Vol Nation.
“They have been unbelievable. They show me more love than I’m probably worthy of. When I was in the hospital after my injury and they had to turn people away and tell them that I wasn’t even there because of how many people showed up. To hear something like that when you just had life-saving surgery is pretty amazing. I love Knoxville, Tennessee, and anyone who supports Tennessee,” Johnson stated. “Once you sign on as a Vol, you’ll always be a Vol. To take it a step further, it’s an interconnection between the fans, coaches and your teammates — everyone in Big Orange country. Vol for Life means that we’re all a family for life. Once you put that Power T on and sport that brand, we’re brothers, sisters, a whole big family.”
Before closing out his message to the crowd gathered at First Baptist Thursday evening, Johnson issued a challenge to the group.
“A faith that has not been tested is a faith that cannot be trusted,” Johnson declared. “I challenge, no I charge you, to live life with the Colossians 3:23 mindset. In everything you do, give it everything you’ve got and do it with all of your heart.”