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Classy offseason


Michael Johnson

You've got to scramble to find Michael Johnson nowadays on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Your best shot is between Financial Management, where he is bonding with hedge funds, and Earth and Atmospheric Science, where his 85 on the semester's first test lifted him into the region above the class average of 78. 

But don't dawdle because that's when he's fitting in his workout on the busy treadmill that is the Georgia Tech campus.

"It's still early in offseason. I found my blueprint last year and I'm going to stick with it," Johnson says of the regimen that bulked him up to 275 pounds and muscled up a career year. "I didn't start working out last year until the middle of March when I came back to Cincinnati. That's when I started to take on the heavy weights. Now I'm just doing stretching, mobility stuff; working on strengthening the small muscles. Balance and agility. And I started a yoga class Tuesday night."

Johnson is finding out he's in a class by himself.

Here's a guy that turned 26 last week shuttling between the 1:30 p.m. science requirement and digital marketing at 3 while lugging around 11.5 sacks. Those are slightly more than the 10 credit hours he's taking this spring semester and have put him on most boards, and certainly the one at Paul Brown Stadium, as one of the NFL's top free agents.

But at the moment he is putting a price tag on other things. Johnson has been back to Atlanta before, pulling down 11 credits two years ago during the lockout. And before that he spent four years with the Ramblin' Wreck that was anything but rambling.

"I didn't value this place the way I should have when I was here," Johnson says over his phone Thursday on the way to the day's workout. "First, I didn't understand the magnitude of the school. I'm at the Georgia Institute of Technology. People come to school here from all over the world. I'm in class with people from Asia, Europe, Australia. I'm from Selma, Alabama. To come in contact with all that, that's something special.

"I didn't realize that the first time around. I hung out with my teammates. I went to class with them. I talked with them. That was it. I didn't really interact with everybody else. Now I'm doing those things and seeing how cool this place really is."

Just the other day Johnson is locked in a conversation with a girl from Puerto Rico, until then a vague concept in the ocean. But as they talk about everything from the weather to the drinking age, he puts a name to the map. That just didn't happen the first time around. Not when you're working out at 6 in the morning, still sweating in class at 8, and all done by 1 in time for practice.

"They say you're a student-athlete, but when you come to campus, you're an athlete-student. That's the way they structure it," Johnson says. "Anybody that plays a sport and gets their degree (in four years), I salute them for that. That's hard to do. When I would talk to people, they wouldn't understand why they were just getting up and all my classes were done.

"Athletes are more ready for the work force as far as working with people. It does get you ready. You have to learn how to manage your time and how to focus in on what you have to focus in on."

Johnson is no stranger to the laser. He was not only the most sought-after athlete in Selma and its satellites, he was also the valedictorian of Dallas County High School. So that 85 in science didn't exactly come out of the night sky. But he's not the only star now.

"You've got two or three valedictorians in every classroom; it's the best of the best," he says. "You have to have two advanced math (classes), two advanced sciences, and a computer science. It may have nothing to do with your major but because you went to Tech you have to have them."

They have nothing to do with Johnson's major, which changed while he has been away. He had the option of staying with business management, but his adviser counseled him to go with the just-created business administration, and he did because he needs only two extra classes and because "I like the ring of it."

"We were talking about bonds and bond pricing and how to hedge your portfolio," Johnson says of the finance class that just broke. "You can talk about stocks and making investments, but you know you've got to have something else just in case interest rates drop and bonds are a great way to do that.

"I never really knew about that before the last couple of days."

From bonds to Puerto Rico, it's been a different kind of offseason. "But different is good," he says. "It's good to open up and learn new things."

He also says his workout blueprint from last season is going to be different.

"I'm going to stick with it; it wasn't just about doing it for one year," Johnson says. "But I want to see what the things are that made me better and then if I work on those, I can get better than that."

When the semester ends May 5, he hopes he's headed back to Cincinnati for the spring workouts. The great elephant in the Financial Management classroom is that Johnson is about to become the most wealthy man in the lecture via free agency. The Bengals seem set on having him back and if they can't reach a long-term deal with him before March 12, making him the franchise player in this year is a viable option.

But right now he'd rather talk hedge funds instead of salary and contract.

"I prayed on that before the season started and I let it go," Johnson says. "That's been in the making. I'm not tripping about that at all. That will take care of itself."

What Johnson does know is that on May 5 he'll be eight credits shy of the degree he hopes is going to help him educate disadvantaged youth. That's the thrust of his foundation and the subject of his numerous ventures into the community during the season.

But now Johnson has a new topic when he speaks to them this season and he won't be hedging about the college experience.

"Appreciate it for what it is," he says.

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