Michael Johnson, the sage of the Paul Brown Stadium locker room, just saw some more ripples in the pond on Thursday. Carlos Dunlap, his bookend on the Bengals defensive line and his partner in community work, had just been named the team's nominee for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year and Johnson had a wide smile even though it just as easily could have been him.
In a way, it was.
"Throw a rock into the pond and make those ripples. The ripple effect," Johnson said after Thursday's practice. "That's the exciting part. Seeing his reach and the people it affects. You never know who you're going to affect and who they're going to affect."
Johnson, whose mammoth community outreach in Cincinnati and his hometown of Selma, Ala., has encompassed mentoring and educational opportunities in the Cincinnati Public Schools and the University of Cincinnati as well as job training in Selma, was in his second season when Dunlap arrived in 2010. As a rookie Dunlap was inspired by attending events for the foundations of Johnson and head coach Marvin Lewis and remembered one day when he and Johnson sat down with four high schoolers on the brink of expulsion for what Dunlap recalls were "hearts-to=hearts," conversations.
"Mike had partnered up with the Cincinnati Police Department in an after-school program and we sat down with four kids about to get kicked out of school," Dunlap recalled. "You know what can happen next. Arrested or drugs. Seeing the impact and hearing their stories, hearing what they're going through, and telling my story, that made me realize they're going through the same thing here and this is my community, too. So I want to take ownership to make a difference here as well as back home."
DE Carlos Dunlap has been selected as the Bengals' nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award which recognizes outstanding community service activities off the field as well as excellence on the field.
That ripple turned out to be the Carlos Dunlap Foundation that focuses on education, offering tutoring, mentorship and after school events. It has grown to include anti-bullying campaigns, breast cancer awareness and support for the troops.
"It's inspiring because I know how we're going to inspire other people," said Johnson after throwing another rock. "That's important for us and as a country. A lot of times you hear people complain about things but a way to fix it is to get out and do stuff like he's doing."