Johnson a Family Man

Kelin Johnson

ATHENS – All the motor-mouthing, all the swings of emotion, all the energy, Kelin Johnson comes by it honestly.

Here's a brief recap of what you can expect when Georgia's senior safety gets together with his family:

"There's tons of food. There's going to be crying. There's going to be laughing. There's going to be praying. There's a lot of enthusiasm. There's going to be singing. You're going to get a lot of singing going on. Grandmama may start out praying, and everybody will start singing. My dad's on the piano playing."

The No. 6 Bulldogs' senior safety, who is closing his final season strongly after fearing it might end prematurely, embodies all that extroverted enthusiasm on the field and off. He and his teammates will play their final regular season game at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against Georgia Tech (7-4) in Atlanta.

"You have to learn to get used to him," said senior running back Thomas Brown, who lives with Johnson and wide receiver A.J. Bryant. "Me and A.J. talk all the time, we don't understand how we became friends with Kelin, just because we have such different personalities, but we just love him for that. You have to understand when you are dealing with Kelin, sometimes, you have to put up with a lot of talking, loud talking."

There was not a lot of talking after the Florida game, in which Johnson suffered an 80 percent tear of his lateral collateral ligament. He first feared a more serious injury that would have meant a premature end to his season.

"He's a highly emotional guy, and he probably overreacts a little bit one way or the other," head coach Mark Richt said. "He went in the tank there for a while. When he realized it wasn't a season-ending injury, his spirits came around."

And so did his game. After sitting out the Troy game, he came back with a four-tackle, two-interception effort against Auburn. He then registered another four tackles, half a sack and an interception against Kentucky.

"It's a confidence booster, and it's an emotional booster (to play so well in the last two games)," Johnson said. "Once I get out there and ran with my teammates, you forget about all the rinky-dink injuries. You forget about everything. You are free out there."

Johnson's free spirit is one of the things that drew the Bulldogs to the lightly recruited athlete out of Daytona Beach, Fla. Georgia began the recruiting process late, not even taking a look at Johnson until after he had helped Mainland High School to the state title as a senior.

"The thing I remember most was how he just stood out on film," Martinez said.

During the recruiting process, Martinez discovered that he and Richt played with Johnson's uncle, Darrell Fullington, at Miami. Fullington was a safety who went on to a six-year NFL career and still is the person Johnson measures himself against on the football field.

Johnson was rated a one-star prospect by Scout.com in 2004. He was recruited by the Bulldogs and Penn State and several other lesser lights, and those low expectations have pushed him throughout his collegiate career, Brown said. They've also left him quick to bristle at doubters and shudder at the sight of any speed bumps in the road.

"You set goals for yourself and you set standards and if it looks like you're not going to meet the requirements for you goals, of course, you get down on yourself," Johnson said.

"He would wear his emotions on his sleeve more than most guys, but that's not all bad," Richt said. "It's pretty easy to read him. That's part of why he's really a great football player, and that's why he's going to be a great husband and father because he has a lot of passion and compassion as a person."

The image of Johnson, who leads Georgia with four interceptions and has 37 tackles, as a family man is a stark contrast from what many people imagined for him as a child, he said. Johnson's elementary school principal told him he would be a in a juvenile detention center before he reached the eighth grade, Johnson said.

"I was bad," he acknowledged. "I was a problem child, just getting in trouble, week in and week out. I was just hard headed. I wanted a lot of attention."

Even the large, extended family that now rallies around him once shunned him, Johnson said.

"I had to stay with my mom and my dad the majority of the time on family get-togethers," he said. "There would be other kids in the other room, but I'm getting into everything. I'm messing their card game up, just nit-picking them. They'd be saying, ‘Get out of here Kelin, get out of here.'

"I was just tired of being that."

Now things are different. Johnson can see himself filling the role once held by Fullington, the cousin who the family kids all gravitated to.

"Now I've got my little cousins looking up to me," he said. "It's all about family. It's all about uplifting people."

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