Nicknamed “Lotto” by his father, Lonnie Johnson considers himself lucky.
Lucky to make it out of Gary, Indiana – a city with one of the highest murder rates in the country and lucky to be drafted by the Houston Texans.
“I worked hard, man,” Johnson said via conference call. “Everything it took to get here, everything I’ve been through. I’m just at a loss for words right now. Like I really just don’t even know what to say.”
On Friday, the Texans drafted the 6-2, 213-pound cornerback with their first pick of the second round (54th overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft. Houston met with the Johnson several times during the evaluation process, at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, the NFL Scouting Combine and even during a workout at Kentucky, before selecting him.
“Throughout this entire draft process, I felt like Johnson was destined to be a Texan,” Texans football analyst and sideline reporter John Harris said. “Long, strong and tough as nails, Johnson stared down a tremendous amount of adversity in his life to get to the NFL. He threw a blanket over receivers at the Senior Bowl to cap his career and that helped lock him into the second round.”
Raised in Gary public housing, Johnson and his family endured tough times. He struggled with academics and endured the tragic loss of two of his closest friends, victims of gun violence in Gary. In 2015, he excelled at Garden City Community College, but sat out his 2016 season to focus on school.
“I almost gave it up at one point, junior college, because I kept getting knocked down every step I tried to take,” Johnson said. “Just stuck with it and ended up finally qualifying through school and got to Kentucky and doing the right thing.”
After transferring from junior college in 2017, Johnson played two seasons at Kentucky and earned a starting spot with five games left in the season. Johnson started 18 of his 26 career games as a Wildcat and finished with 64 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, 12 pass breakups, two blocked kicks, one interception and one forced fumble.
Johnson considers press-man coverage to be his strength and is looking forward to playing behind a defensive front led by First-Team All-Pros J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
“Man, they’re going to be my best friends,” Johnson said, laughing. “They help me make plays and I’m going to help them. I’m going to give them the time they need to get back there.”
The Texans selected Kentucky CB Lonnie Johnson, Jr. in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. (via AP images)