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Johnson runs the right path

Bethel Johnson is an athlete. He ran a 4.27 second 40 this spring and had considerable baseball talent to complement his football abilities while growing up with his four sisters and his mother, Sylvia, in Corsicana, Texas -- a town of about 25,000 that he says likes to party.

That penchant for an overindulgent nightlife was one of the reasons Johnson chose to head off to the "big" city to attend Texas A&M in College Station, where the population exceeds 100,000 including around 45,000 students.

"It was something I wasn't used to," Johnson said of the Texas A&M environment. "It was a culture shock. If it was a school that was similar to everything I was used to in my environment – partying – I wouldn't have gone there. It was out of the ordinary for me and it helped me. I wasn't used to structure and that kept me out of trouble and in school."

The ability to live and excel within that structured setting may ultimately help him be successful in an environment that dwarfs College Station and Corsicana combined several times over. In the Boston area, Johnson could find a party at will. But his experience and growth at A&M should help him stave off the temptations Boston offers so graciously.

"I did all that in high school," he said, essentially explaining that the partying is out of his system. But that doesn't mean New England won't present a new kind of culture shock for the life-long Texan.

"Everybody's house looks the same here to me only a different color," he said. "There are a lot of trees here and it's not really hot like it is in Texas. Also, there are a lot Dunking Donuts. They're on every corner. I remember Dunkin Donuts when I was little in Texas and then after a couple of years, it was gone.

"Coming to a new place is a big move and that's the hardest thing to adapt to now. Football is the easy part. It's my job. It's what I do. They brought me in to play. I knew I had to change my environment. I did that when I went to college leaving a small town to go to a big college town."

It was in College Station while playing for the Aggies that Johnson found God, who he credits with helping him through a difficult period in his career that included a ruptured spleen that required surgery along with a follow-up procedure because of an intestinal blockage.

"I stay in touch with my Father in Heaven," he said. "That's how I bounce back from anything. I stay faithful on my walk with God. I never doubted. My mother told me a long time ago, 'What the Lord has for you is for you. No man can take it from you.' I felt like football is what God blessed me to do but if you took it away from me, it wouldn't be a problem because it's not what will get me into heaven.

"But [the injury] let me see football from a different perspective. Everything is not always promised to you. You need to take advantage of opportunities you have and not take anything for granted."

Despite attending A&M when the famed bonfire that precedes the annual Texas A&M-Texas game collapsed killing 12 students and when a freshman teammate, defensive lineman Brandon Fails, died, Johnson says tragedy did not lead him down the religious path that he walked at the end of his sophomore season.

"It wasn't anything tragic. It was just me," he said, adding that former teammates and current 49ers Jason Webster and Cornelius Anthony influenced his beliefs. "I never lost faith. If I did, maybe [my career] would have been over."

His faith aside, it is his God-given speed that helped climb draft boards around the NFL. He is expected to be a home run hitter in the Patriots offense – a receiver who can stretch a defense and make it respect the deep ball.

"From Day One I could always run," Johnson said. "But you always have to be work out and do the small things to keep your speed. Your abdominal work. Your leg work. You have to do that to maintain your speed, but it's obviously God-given."

While that speed may be Johnson's meal ticket, he has no delusions of grandeur as he enters his rookie season. "I just want to contribute any way I can. I have no say as to what my role will be. I have to contribute. I'm just learning. I have to focus on everything. I'm just a rookie."

But he's a rookie with unrivaled speed on the Patriots roster. With a mini-camp fast approaching and training camp around the corner, it's time to find out if his God-given speed is track speed or football speed. The difference could determine his ultimate success as a big-play NFL wideout.

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