Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Pursuit of degree kept Nico Johnson at Alabama


If you know anything about The University of Alabama Crimson Tide’s legendary defensive line, chances are you know No. 35, Nico Johnson. Off the field, however, most fans do not realize Johnson has his eyes set on more than just another national championship – his goal is a degree.

“That was really my only reason for coming back this season, knowing anything can happen at any time,” Johnson said. “I promised my mom I wouldn’t leave UA without a degree.”

Born in small-town Andalusia, Ala., Johnson never dreamed he would one day play under head coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide. In fact, sports were the last thing on his mind.

“I remember going to camp as a junior thinking I didn’t even really care about sports, because I wanted to go into the military,” Johnson said. “When Alabama gave me an offer after just four days, I had to decide between football or the military, and I chose to take advantage of the free degree.”

Johnson said one of his favorite memories was when Saban paid him a personal visit to Andalusia. With offers from major football programs like Auburn, Florida, LSU and Georgia, Saban hoped to lock in a now very sought-after recruit.

“It was unreal – Nick Saban sitting in my actual home,” he said. “It was weird and really special all at the same time.”

Yet playing for a successful football team never caused Johnson to lose focus of the real goal – securing a degree to prepare for the unpredictable future of a football player.

“You’re not guaranteed to play anywhere, and in order to be successful, why even come here if you don’t finish your degree,” he said. “You never know when your last day of football can be.”

With this driven attitude and the support of his family in mind, Johnson began thinking about choosing the right major.

“I think I was sitting in my dorm watching ‘[Law and Order:] Special Victims Unit’ and thought, ‘I want to do that. I want to be able to make a difference in society,’” he said.

A criminal justice degree seemed an odd choice to some of his friends from back home, but Johnson said there was no better choice.

“I guess I just feel like it’s the only thing I can connect with and have an interest for, because going through high school, I just saw so many friends getting in trouble with the police, and at one point, I hated the police for it,” Johnson said. “Now – over time, the older I got – I understood how difficult it is and the need for police.”

Being the only one of his friends to make it out and go to college, Johnson said, forced him to realize he had to beat the system and do something big with his life.

“I’m going to try the football thing because I think I have a good chance, but I have a degree to fall back on,” he said. “I want to be a CSI or FBI agent. [My juevenile deliquency class] talked about how difficult it is for kids these days and how being raised the right way can make a difference in a child’s life or how an abusive parent can even cause a delinquent child. I could really connect with it because I’d witnessed it growing up by hand or eye.”

However, at the end of the day, being a football player on such a successful team has its perks, Johnson said.

“I’ll miss the tradition of Alabama football and being able to wear the jersey, but really just being around my teammates, walking to class or eating at Bryant [Hall] together is what I’ll miss the most,” he said. “When the crowd cheers for us when our picture comes on the jumbotron, it just shows that all your hard work pays off.”

With a possible NFL future, Johnson said he and his family would rather focus on the present.

“The thing their most excited for was me getting a degree, and anything else, that is just extra,” he said. “I came here to get a championship, and I’ve done that twice. I came here to get a degree, and I’ll get that in five months, so I’d say Alabama is everything it was supposed to live up to.”

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