Saturday, January 1, 2011

Rose Bowl player Tejay Johnson at TCU fluent in sign language, plans career with Deaf community

From The Pasadena Star-News in Calif.:

LOS ANGELES - Tejay Johnson (pictured) was undecided about his major when he enrolled at Texas Christian four years ago, but the writing was on the wall at an early age.

The frustration of watching his cousin, LaQueena, struggle communicating with family members through sign language inspired Johnson to switch from a social work major to habilitation of the deaf and hard of hearing.

LaQueena, 26, was born with severe hearing loss and communicated with family members in various ways, including writing thoughts down on a notepad. Sign language was foreign to her family, and because of personal hardships and the strenuous process of how to sign, they never learned.

Curiosity, however, got the best of Johnson. Passion took over from there.

"It was always interesting to see her do sign language, and then go to church and see the interpreter communicate with her," Johnson said. "It was something I wanted to learn so I could help."

It was his advisor who came to him with the idea a few years ago.

Johnson always had wanted to help one way or another, which is why he first went into social work. Choosing to earn a degree in habilitation of the deaf and hard of hearing just added to a personal cause.

"She came to me and said, `I have something for you,' " Johnson recalled. "I started talking to some of the students who majored in deaf hand and learned their past.

"It really stood out and quickly became something I wanted to do."

Johnson is viewed as "an exceptional young man with a great heart," but he'll check his emotions at the door when he leads a highly touted defense on Saturday at 2 p.m. when Texas Christian plays Wisconsin in the 97th Rose Bowl Game.

Johnson exudes the kind of confidence that makes him an effective leader on the field. He leads TCU with three interceptions and is third in tackles with 56.

Texas Christian defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas, in his seventh season with the Horned Frogs, said he is not surprised the 6-foot-1, 215-pound safety is the centerpiece of the tenacious defense.

"I can't say enough about the good things he's done," Bumpas said. "He's extremely intelligent, and he's really the quarterback of our defense.

"He's what makes us run."

Johnson, a Jim Thorpe Award finalist and first-team All-American according to various media outlets, anchors a defense that leads the nation in total defense (223.2 yards) and ranks first in scoring defense (10.9 points), pass defense (134.6 yards) and fewest first downs allowed per game (11.6).

Even in football, all Johnson wants to do is help.

"I make a lot of calls and a lot of chase," Johnson said when asked to describe his role on defense.

It's his effectiveness to lead off the field that draws even more praise. Johnson is eyeing a career in the NFL, but he also has alternate plans. He's on pace to graduate in four years.

"I want to be an interpreter and an educator as well," he said. "I've always been big on education."

Just like in football, Johnson walks the walk when it comes to school. He's a member of TCU's gospel choir and also secretary and historian for the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

Mentoring middle-school students, volunteering at a homeless shelter and participating in Big Brother/Big Sisters events earned Johnson a nomination for the American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team.

It comes as little surprise, then, that Johnson also was among 30 candidates for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, which honors student-athletes who use their athletic platform to make a positive impact as a community leader.

So when it came to switching his major, Johnson made sure the goal remained intact.

"That's all I wanted to do," he said, "was to just help."