Will Johnson poses with Charleston Hughes at McMahon Stadium in Calgary at the 25th Anniversary of the Stampeder’s 1992 Grey Cup win.

“In 2010, Will Johnson was added to the Stampeders’ Wall of Fame and a strong case can be made that he is overdue for enshrinement into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. He ranked eighth all-time in sacks when he retired — he’s now 11th — and finished just one agonizing sack shy of 100 in his career.” –(Quoted from the Calgary Stampeders website:  http://www.stampeders.com/2016/03/03/will-power/)

Will Johnson always seemed invincible…and a little intimidating with such a powerful presence at 6’5″.  I always thought that nothing could touch him or break him, as it was for most of his career on the field. When he told me that growing up he believed himself to be invincible, I had to laugh as we shared our commonalities. Apparently even a 5’2″ (and ½) little blonde who grew up with an air of invincibility can also seem little intimidating at times.

I learned from Johnson that as strong as one may be, anyone can break.  But finding the light through the cracks is where the next great victory lies.

My first encounter in with the Stampeder “Wall of Famer” was about seven years ago when our boys played football on the same team. I needed my vehicle charged after the battery went dead from my daughter watching movies while her brother practiced, and Will happened to be parked beside me. After he charged me up, he told me that that I shouldn’t leave a movie running so long without starting my truck. Thank you Constable Johnson. (Secretly relieved I didn’t get arrested because I left my child in the vehicle).

Years later, I have come to know another, softer, side of Johnson and now understand that his natural instincts to protect and his innate ability to read situations override anything else.  He had more than likely already had one eye on my daughter watching her movie, and if he had thought that she was in any danger he would have said something long before.

Johnson believes in the importance of always trying to being the better person.  He knows that resentment only creates a negative environment all around, not just to the one where the issue lies.  He rebounds from stumbles by being optimistic and learning from each experience. He learns from others, from self-awareness, through his own mistakes made in life and love, and most of all from his greatest teachers, his kids.

Johnson has four beautiful children whom he loves more than anything. The youngest, his only son, is almost 18. If you would like to see him tear up, just ask him about his kids. He is so proud of all of them.  All of his children have either completed university or are now attending.  His children are what make him feel most blessed.

As Johnson recalls his journey of wins and losses in the assorted games of his life, he maintains that true wisdom comes from fully embracing the transitions. We are all blessed with gifts that hold with them dreams, but it is through the experiences while using those skills, that the most profound gifts of understanding and truth are found. Some of his greatest miracles in life came from the most unexpected places, even though he hesitates to ever expect anything unless he has worked for it.

A man from humble beginnings, Johnson grew up in Louisiana.  He says he did not experience much in his younger years, but watched a lot of superhero cartoons, which further engaged his already active imagination.  He always wanted to be a Superhero. In many ways, this is what he has become.

His first and middle names William and Alexander came from his grandfathers first names.

“I believe that names represent who we are.”

The name William means protector; Alexander means defender of men.

As a child he played all kinds of stuntman and superhero games with his “big” brother.  He says,”big” with a smile as himself was definitely the biggest of the children in the Johnson clan. He would jump over five foot fences and ride bikes off of ramps, sometimes landing gracefully and sometimes not so gracefully.

Will Johnson flying through the air sacking the Quarterback at North East Louisiana in 1985 -Photographer unknown

Once he started school he joined in on school sports. It was immediately obvious that he was a talented athlete.  This may have put and end to his stunting, but he found other ways of  leaping and flying through the air by making tackles on the field; again, sometimes landing gracefully, sometimes not so gracefully.

He was awarded a scholarship to North East Louisiana University, but did not use all of it as he was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1987 before coming to his home of the past 28 years, Calgary.

The 7 and a half years he played with the Calgary Stampeders awarded him many accolades:

*6 Time All-Star in 1990 to 1995
*5 Time All Canadian from 1991 to 1995
*Western Player of the Year in 1991 as well as runner up for the CFL’s Outstanding Player of the Year that same year

Johnson still holds the record for Calgary’s all time sack leader with 99 sacks; a record that Charlton Hughes is currently trying to break. Johnson’s record was reached in only 7 years of play.

Shortly after retiring from football in 1997, Johnson joined The Calgary Police Service where he has helped people from all walks of life for the past 17 years. Much of his career presently involves working in Calgary schools, as well he has volunteered for 14 years coaching Calgary Minor Football and High School Football.  He says his job is not just about enforcing the law, but protecting and helping others so they can help themselves by building resiliency.

Comical people make him smile, he is inspired by the challenges in life.  His kids, to him are beautiful, and he finds passion in doing his best each day.  He has learned that he can push himself beyond his limits; mentally, physically and emotionally.

“I think I grew up wanting to become a superhero, and later discovered that I am not invincible. I have emotions, and I break. I am just a man of humble beginnings… still on a journey”

The perfect word he chose to sum up what he most desires in every aspect of wellness is “unique”.

Thank you Johnson for sharing your unique journey and words of wisdom, which show you are a true superhero in many ways.  We wait for your story to continue when you are enshrined into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

“It is as important in life to remember and reflect as it is to forgive and forget, as both are crucial for success.”  –Will Johnson

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