Ron Johnson giving new pro football league a look

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 12, 2007 - 8:16 PM

Former Gophers receiver Ron Johnson, among others, is trying out for a spot in the All American Football League.

Ron Johnson figures he has one more shot at the NFL, and like a lot of players of a similar age and situation, the former Gophers receiver is trying to decide whether a new professional football league scheduled to begin play in April is the best route back to the NFL.

That's why Johnson, 27, is at Detroit's Ford Field today for an invitation-only tryout for the Michigan team that will participate in the All American Football League. Also expected in the field of about 400 invitees are fellow ex-Gopher Kyle McKenzie, former Heisman Trophy-winning Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch and former Holy Angels and Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco.

"I need to go down there and try to figure out if this league has a chance to take off, or will it just blow up like some of the other leagues that have come and gone," Johnson said. "I know the end of my career is coming soon, and while I don't doubt that the league can be successful, I also have to be smart."

Johnson, who played for the Gophers from 1999-2002, already is under contract with the Arena League's Orlando Predators, where he caught 69 passes for 733 yards and 12 touchdowns in eight games last season. He said his contract allows him to leave for another league.

"In a way, it would be nice to return to playing outdoor football on a full-size field," Johnson said. "But, at the same time, look at the Arena League. It's a passing league that has sent receivers and other players to the NFL. And at 6-3, 226 pounds, they've never seen anybody like me in Arena ball. I pretty much bully everybody and catch like 10 balls a game."

Johnson was a fourth-round NFL draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2002. He played in all 16 games, with four starts, as a rookie, and nine more games in 2003. But since then, injuries and the early stages of arthritis in his knees have contributed to a career that hasn't lived up to his expectations.

He hasn't played in the NFL since 2003, but has spent time on the practice squads of the Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins. He also played one CFL season in Calgary.

The six-team AAFL will have franchises in Michigan, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas and Texas. A 10-game regular season will be followed by playoffs and a championship game in July. Players must have college degrees. Salaries will be between $50,000 and $100,000.

Johnson is from Detroit, but he said that would have no bearing on whether he would choose the AAFL over the Arena League. He lives in the Twin Cities with his new bride, the former Shani Marks, an Olympic hopeful in the triple jump, and works as a realtor for Coldwell Banker.

"Just sold [former Gophers quarterback] Bryan Cupito his house," Johnson said. "It's something I like to do. And I'd also like to be a coach one day. But, right now, I feel like I'll be blessed with one more chance at the NFL. I'll go down to Detroit to see what they have to offer."

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