It was meant to be.
Football was very good to David Johnson. It got him a college scholarship, taught him countless lessons, and even got him a small taste of the NFL, but more than anything, it led him to where he is today — and he wouldn't have it any other way.
"There's a lot I had to learn throughout that process at college that helped me get where I am today," Johnson said. "Some of it has nothing to do with football, but football was the vehicle that taught me and got me to where I am today.
"But my identity is not a football player. My identity is to be a good husband, to be a good father and to treat people the right way, and a lot of that I learned through football."
The 2003 Southridge High School graduate was part of the school's first four-year graduating class. He started at least a portion of the Skyhawks' games in his final three years at quarterback.
During his senior season, Johnson completed 110 of 181 pass attempts for 1,640 yards and 15 touchdowns, while rushing for 375 yards and four more scores.
But while he had aspirations of starting at the Division I level, Southridge's run-first offense left the 6-foot-2 strong-armed signal-caller with only FCS and Division II coaches calling.
"We were a triple-option, veer-and-counter team that didn't throw the ball much my sophomore and junior years," Johnson said. "It wasn't until my senior year that we proved to our coach that we could actually throw the football and that we had receivers that could catch and run routes, so we opened it up a bit. But really it wasn't until I started working on my own that I got some eyes on my game."
That attention was a product of the work Johnson did with local speed and quarterback trainer Matt James, along with former Beaverton High School standout Taylor Barton and his father Greg, who at the time were mentoring aspiring quarterbacks via the Barton Football Academy. Johnson parlayed that work and exposure into one — and only one — Division I offer from the University of Tulsa, which at the time played in the Western Athletic Conference, then later as a part of Conference USA.
After a visit and some consultation with his parents, Johnson accepted the offer. That following August, he found himself adjusting to a much different part of the country.
"The biggest culture shock was just the humidity and the weather," he recalled. "But once I got acclimated to that and the way a college program works, it was really about meeting the guys, and I was lucky to have a great team full of guys that I hung out with, which made me thankful to be a part of a program with that type of atmosphere."
After a redshirt year, Johnson competed with Paul Smith for the starting position, but he lost out to the eventual 2007 Conference USA Player of the Year and sat behind him for three seasons waiting for his opportunity. He said despite his desire to get on the field, his confidence nor his work ethic ever suffered as a result of his backup status.
"It was tough, but I enjoyed the process," Johnson said. "As a backup, you're only one play away from being the guy, so I prepared like the starter. That was just my mentality. I never thought about transferring, because in my mind, doing so was like quitting, and that's not how I was raised — so I just kept working and kept my head down."
That work eventually paid off when Johnson earned the starting position his senior season and led the Golden Hurricane to an 11-3 record, throwing for 4,059 yards and 46 touchdowns. He said his head-turning performance didn't surprise him, but it validated all of his hard work, along with his decision to see the process at Tulsa through.
"We had a core group of guys that were there with me all five years, and to get to do that with them was pretty special," he said. "I feel like we all worked our butts off, and to set a school record in wins and finish number one in the country on offense was cool. Sure, I wish I could've played more, but I wouldn't change that experience."
After graduation, Johnson attended the Green Bay Packers' mini-camp and got a small taste of the NFL game. He knew his limited time rubbing shoulders with superstar Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the team's stable of capable quarterbacks wouldn't lead to much, and he admitted to himself that in all likelihood, he wasn't NFL material.
"It was a good time and a good experience, but I knew I wasn't going to make the team," he said. "The NFL is a whole different animal, and to be honest, I don't feel like I was ready to play at that level."
Now, Johnson lives outside of Dallas, Texas, with his wife Katherine — who played soccer at Tulsa — and their two young kids.
After spending a handful of years coaching at both the high school and college level, the former Skyhawks and Golden Hurricane quarterback is officially out of the game. Johnson is a top executive at a multifamily commercial real estate company in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
Johnson said at least to an extent, he does miss football. What he doesn't miss is the long hours that often left him away from the people he loves. He's happy being a husband and father, he enjoys his job, and he says he's content with where he is and how he got there.
"Everything happened the way it was supposed to happen, and I have no regrets over decisions that I made," Johnson said, "and I'm very thankful for everybody that I came into contact with, through high school, college and post-college."
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