Shane Johnson had his commitment to Coastal Carolina and his promise to earn a college degree tested at the end of his freshman year in 2014.
Though he redshirted as a freshman, Johnson impressed his teammates and coaches in practices and was named the co-defensive player of the year on the practice scout team. He was slated to start at linebacker the next season.
But there was no redshirt freshman season for the Philadelphia native.
He was involved in a fight at an off-campus party in the spring semester of 2014 and was suspended from both the school and football team for the ensuing fall semester, so he missed the 2014 season.
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As Johnson describes the altercation, he was the designated driver that night for some teammates and “somebody messed with one of the players and it escalated,” Johnson said. “At the time I felt it was really, really harsh [punishment], but once I sat down and thought about everything I realized it was probably better for me.”
His commitment to CCU never wavered throughout the ordeal, and he came out of the experience better in many ways.
Johnson is a member of the football program’s Team Leadership Council, has one degree and has made progress toward a second, and has ambitions to play professionally after the completion of his final college season on Dec. 2.
“I stepped back and really started thinking about what got me here,” Johnson said. “I had made a promise to a cousin who got killed and I had to fulfill that promise. I told him I’d be the first [family member] to graduate from college, and now that I’ve done it and look back on it, I definitely needed to take a little time off and realize that this could be taken away from me at any moment.
“… I feel when I came back to school I probably needed that step back to realize what I was going to lose if I kept the same bad temper.”
Johnson has been one of Coastal’s most dependable players through a difficult 1-8 season.
He leads CCU with 66 tackles on the season despite missing nearly three full games. He was injured in the first quarter against Alabama-Birmingham in the second game of the season and missed the next two contests.
He ranked second on the team with 66 tackles last year in 10 games after similarly missing two-plus games due to injury.
Johnson came within a tackle of the CCU single-game record with 19 two weeks ago against Texas State and his average of 9.4 tackles per game is second in the Sun Belt Conference. He also has four tackles for loss including a sack, a quarterback hurry, forced fumble and pass break up.
“He came back more appreciative, more mentally and emotionally prepared to play than he would have if the incident didn’t happen,” CCU head coach Joe Moglia said. “While it was painful at the time, I think that was an incredible learning experience in Shane’s case. His appreciation, seriousness, leadership since then has really been excellent, and that came from the challenges he had to go through. Since then he has been one of the true leaders on the team. Not just the defense but the entire team.”
I’ve talked to guys that went to South Carolina, Rhode Island, a bunch of different places, and when they come here to visit and we talk about how our program is run and how different it is, the guys say they wish they would have been at a place like this or had a coach that had a different coaching style that ran it like coach Moglia.
Shane Johnson on the CCU football program and its Be A Man (BAM) standard
Johnson, who is 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, is the son of a U.S. Marine and the youngest of four siblings. He attended the Salisbury School in Connecticut, a private all-boys boarding school, and was verbally committed to Rhode Island.
He was talked into visiting the Conway campus by then CCU offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude, who was a native of New England. “I was nervous I would lose my Rhode Island scholarship, but he said once you get down here you’ll understand why I wanted you to come down here and see the palm trees and be by the beach and everything. It was lovely,” Johnson said.
Bruce Mapp and Dom Digalbo, who were players on the team from Philadelphia, made Johnson feel comfortable and helped entice him to choose CCU. Bowling Green and Penn State, which offered to make Johnson a preferred walk-on without enough scholarships following NCAA sanctions, were also in the running for his services.
“Once I got to talk to [coach Patenaude] and see how he was as a coach and person we really connected honestly on the spot, and I thought as though he’d be a great person to guide me into being a man,” Johnson said.
Johnson returned to Philadelphia during his suspension and trained with a former teammate.
“We would sit down once a week and talk about stuff and that also helped me become the person I am today,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t really mature enough when I first got to college, even though I went to prep school.”
Johnson said he never considered transferring or not returning to CCU. “Coach Moglia and his staff really had my back,” Johnson said. “Throughout the time they would call me and check up on me and stuff. So they really made me feel I was wanted here. Throughout the whole process talking to them, they made me feel like I was missed by my family.”
Johnson graduated in May with a communications degree with a minor in business management, and is a semester away from a second degree in marketing.
But he’s likely to put the second degree on hold to instead pursue a pro football career. “I’m up in the air about whether I want to finish that right now or if I want to train for Pro Day,” he said. “I’m open to all different angles and aspects of the game. I’m a fan of the game. I love it and hopefully I can keep playing.”
Once football is done, Johnson is interested in getting into sports broadcasting, sports information or public relations. “I want to be in front of the camera,” Johnson said. “I want to be either a sports broadcaster or a spokesperson for a company, and I spoke to people with the Sun Belt Conference when I went down there and hopefully I can be a spokesperson for the conference.”
Johnson would like to end the season as the conference leader in tackles per game, and he and his fellow seniors/grad students would like to end the season on a high note with games remaining against Troy, Idaho and Georgia Southern.
“Hopefully we can bring the team to go 3-0 the last three games. That’s definitely the No. 1 goal for me, to lead the team to finish the season strong,” Johnson said. “I just want the young guys to see all the effort we’re giving. Even though we’re losing, I just want them to see the effort we’re giving so they can bring that same intensity next year.
“If these young guys just bring that same intensity next year I know they’ll have a successful season, hopefully they’ll have a winning season. Coming into this year we thought the Sun Belt was going to be a lot harder than it was. We realize it’s not really much harder, we can play with these guys and if the young guys keep working hard they will win.”
Johnson is thankful he made the decisions he did after his suspension.
“I love it here. I’ve grown so much since I’ve gotten here and matured so much,” Johnson said. “So it’s definitely a blessing that I’ve come here. Being around all the guys here, it’s such a brotherhood, especially the team.”
Who: Troy (7-2, 4-1 Sun Belt) at Coastal Carolina (1-8, 0-5 Sun Belt)
When: 4:30 p.m.
Where: Brooks Stadium, Conway
Occassion: CCU Athletics Hall of Fame, Military Appreciation
TV: Live online on ESPN3
Live stats: Through www.goccusports.com GameTracker
Radio: WRNN 99.5-FM