Sure, I grew up loving the Cowboys, "America's Team", even subscribing to the Dallas Cowboys' Weekly. I remember knowing who everyone was, and the guys looking at me funny because I could quote stats.
Twenty some odd years later, I found myself approached by the Johnson family to be the family's personal photographer to take pictures of Bart Jr., a Free Agent at Bengal's training camp. I readily agreed to the shoot, and wasn't disappointed by my experience.
Bart (Bengal #13) attended Texas Christian University with Andy Dalton (Bengal #14) and close friend Jordan Shipley (Bengal #11). Bart was a key player in TCU's Rose Bowl victory in 2011. During that Rose Bowl, he put the first points on the board with a 23 yard catch from Andy Dalton, and ended the close game by recovering an onside kick after Wisconsin had pulled within two points.
Johnson's a wide receiver who's been catching passes from Andy for 3 years. Their chemistry on the field makes them brilliant. You can practically feel the camaraderie all the way to the stands.
But what sets Bart apart from the pack? I believe it's a combination of several factors - his determination, his dedication, his intelligence, and his priorities.
Determination - I watched Bart dig a throw out of the dirt to make the catch. He hustles. He's able to put distractions aside and focus on the play, doing his job giving every play everything he's got. Yeah, he knows making the team is a long shot, but he's not going to ever behave like that - Bart goes out every day as if it's already a done deal and works hard to confirm he belongs here.
Dedication - Bart was a walk-on at Texas Christian University. No one was looking at the kid from Brownwood Texas High. Before training camp, if anyone in Cincinnati said, "Bart Johnson", not many but the die hard Bengals fans would know who you're talking about.
One of the days I went to training camp, it was a non-stop, adrenaline filled practice. When it was over, Barto (Bart's nickname) went over to the fence to sign a few autographs, but unlike most of the other players, instead of going back to the locker room, Barto stayed on the field to catch some more passes. He doesn't just give the minimum - he exceeds what's requested of him.
Intelligence - How many in the NFL can say they graduated Magna Cum Laude with a GPA of 3.777? Johnson's goal is being a success, whether it's on or off the field, and his backup plan after the Bengals is law school. He can memorize a play book quickly, or read a playing field and instinctively his brain makes the adjustments required to do his job on that specific play.
Priorities - Bart Johnson, Jr. is a man who understands you can't succeed without your priorities in place, a virtue most likely defined by his tight knit family. One of Bart's top priorities is his faith.
As a matter of fact, shortly after joining his Fraternity at TCU, he started the Fraternity's first Bible Study. Bart understood if you put God first, then all the other things in your life will fall into place. Proverbs 3:5-6 are lived by Bart, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don't lean on your own understanding. In ALL your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path." We're fortunate that Johnson's path has led him to Cincinnati and the Bengals.
I once asked a very wise man how to know God's will for your life. His answer: "Number 1 stay as close to God as you possibly can. And as long as you are doing Number 1, do what comes naturally, and if God wants you doing anything else, He will let you know."
What a great role model Johnson is for our youth, put God first, trust Him, and keep that your first priority. After that, education and football were both priorities, keeping his grade scores high and his football stats key. He also took time to visit Middle Schools and Elementary Schools to speak for Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Barto's a natural at football, with the determination, dedication and intelligence to have a great year by keeping his priorities in line. He's excited about the future - he can relax because he's put his future in God's capable hands and all he has to do is listen, and obey.
Personally, I hope Bart's stay in Cincinnati is a long one.
You can keep up with Bart Johnson on the Bengals official website.