Last year, Kaeron Johnson helped the Baylor Bears to a 10-3 record and a 70-63 victory over Washington in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.
Originally published on Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Kaeron Johnson File
• High School: Cuero
• Highlights: All-state tight end & defensive end
• College: Baylor
• Highlights: 37 games, 5 starts, played defensive tackle and fullback
Kaeron Johnson had an idea of what was coming when he traveled from Waco to Dallas to have his back checked out.
But the diagnosis was still difficult to swallow.
"The first thing the doctor told me was my football career was over," Johnson said. "I had expected the worse, but it was hard."
Johnson began to feel severe pain in his back during Baylor's spring practice and it became worse when the team got a week off and he returned to his Cuero home.
"It was pretty bad," Johnson said. "I was taking painkillers and I could hardly walk. I couldn't lie down. I had to sleep in a recliner in an upright position."
Johnson, 22, had a herniated disc and needed a procedure called a microdiscetomy, which removes small portions of the disc to relieve pressure on the spinal cord.
He underwent surgery on Sept. 17 in Dallas and has returned to school at Baylor, where he is completing the six hours he needs to graduate in December with a degree in health, human performance and recreation.
Johnson is no longer taking painkillers and he will begin about three months of therapy in November
"I'm walking straight up," Johnson said. "I can't do any heavy lifting. I can still do everything I love. I just can't be as intense."
Football has been Johnson's passion since he was in the seventh grade in Cuero. He was an all-state tight end and defensive end for the Gobblers before signing with Baylor.
Johnson redshirted his freshman year. He moved between defensive tackle and fullback during his freshman and sophomore seasons.
The 6-foot-2, 305-pound Johnson played full-time on the defensive line last season. He saw action in the Bears' Alamo Bowl win over Washington and was on track to start at defensive tackle this season before the injury put a premature end to his career.
"It wasn't anything specific," Johnson said. "It was just years of football degeneration from all the pounding and all the contact."
Johnson considered applying to the NCAA for a medical redshirt and attempting to play again next season, but decided against it.
"I thought about it," Johnson said. "But the doctor told me if it happened again the whole disc would have to be removed."
Baylor coach Art Briles was looking forward to Johnson's senior season, but supported his decision.
"It's very unfortunate because Kaeron had a great spring and summer," Briles told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "But he's had those back issues that we've been trying to get right. Our first thought was to not play him this year and bring him back next year. But the advice he got was for him to go ahead and live a normal life."
Life without football has been anything but normal for Johnson, but he's making the adjustment.
"I'm used to waking up every morning with a different coach calling or texting me telling me I'm due here for something," Johnson said. "I always had a set schedule. Now, I wake up to my dog, get up and make breakfast and live a normal day."
Johnson remains part of the football team and is doing his best to assist his teammates.
"I spent the first two games on the sideline wearing a headset," he said. "I was there to give moral support and help the guys who were under me. Of course, it was different, but I still want to be a part of it."
Johnson is considering becoming a graduate assistant coach or moving to the Metroplex and entering the business world after he graduates.
But he won't second guess his decision to leave football behind.
"I felt sorry for myself for a couple of days because I worked so hard the last four years and I was finally getting my chance to start," Johnson said. "But the more I thought about it being able to walk when I'm 35 is a lot more important in life than playing football."
Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.