The phone finally rang and Charles Johnson was coy. He hid his elation. With some 40-50 friends and family members packed into this clubhouse in Union, Ky., he turned around and spoke in a low, inaudible tone to the Green Bay Packers. Johnson hung up, asked someone to turn down the music, turn up the television and. . . in the seventh round, with the 216th overall pick, the Packers selected the Grand Valley State wide receiver. Screams boomed. A palpable roar filled the room. As Johnson was mauled in hugs, Dad sprinted out the door. Without warning, Fred Johnson was gone. This was a man who had survived four heart attacks. Spotting this mad dash amid the madness, Charles' older sister, April Kariuki, ran after him into the parking lot. Hunched over a car, there he was. Kariuki rushed over and couldn't believe her eyes. For the first time ever, she saw her dad cry. The near-fatal night in the hospital. The heart attacks, the timetables from doctors. Cancer. The severe case of scleroderma. None of that brought him to tears. This did. This was the moment that drove Fred Johnson to survive it all. Moments after seeing his son drafted, eyes welled up, he thanked God. "I honestly believe that's the reason my dad has lived this long," his daughter said. "My brother made a promise to him. He said, 'Dad, as long as you fight, I'm going to fight.' " The vow was made in 2009. Johnson dropped everything in California - school, football, friends, a future - to fly home to Kentucky. His dad was stricken with scleroderma, a rare disease that was spiraling south. Fast. One night he nearly died of complications from the disease and doctors gave him six months to live. So for an entire year, Charles Johnson put football on hold and Dad's fight became his fight. Johnson promised his father, now 62, that he'd see him get drafted to the NFL. He'd see him play. He's fast, sure. Johnson runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.3-second range. But this vow, more than anything, is why the 6-foot-3, 225-pound wide receiver is in rookie minicamp this weekend. His goal? To give Dad more moments like that one in parking lot. "I have to stay strong for him," Johnson said, "and he has to stay strong for me." To Kariuki's relief, her dad wasn't having a fifth heart attack on draft day. He caught his breath. And as tears streamed down Fred Johnson's face, he made one final plea to God. "I want to see one game," he repeated, "just one game."
Packers draft pick Charles Johnson fueled by his father's fight
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | May 9