"Years get away from you and I don't even realize it's my 15th year to be doing this," Johnson said. "This was started with Danny Ford.
"The way I dreamed this up is we would be running south on the practice field, and I could just look south and I could see nothing but Hope watermelons. I just said I wanted the opportunity to share with other kids and the other guys so I called Coach (Frank) Broyles and told him what I wanted to do and he said, ‘You know what? That sounds like a great idea.'"
Hope has long been known for the large watermelons pulled from the vine there and the Hope Watermelon Festival – which takes place next week – rewards farmers for having the largest the giant fruit. Some of those melons have exceeded 260 pounds.
The 130 watermelons served Thursday were a bit smaller but displayed Johnson's big heart.
"Once you have played and left the university, it's always good to give back," said Johnson, a fullback for the Razorbacks from 1974-76. "I'm hoping that some of our key players that have gone on and done well in life will acknowledge what I've done. This is about giving to the institution that gave to you.
"I'm just so thankful to Coach Broyles and Coach (Bobby) Petrino and Jeff Long. I'm just overwhelmed because it's a good feeling when you give and I'm not looking for anything in return."
Johnson said his generosity hasn't gone unnoticed, even noting a chance meeting with former Arkansas cornerback Ahmad ‘Batman' Carroll in California.
"I ran into him and he told me, ‘Mr. Johnson every time I see you I think about that cold watermelon,'" Johnson recalled. "Coach Broyles has made this a tradition here at the university."
Johnson said he hopes just like he has impacted a generation of Razorback players past, he can help persuade the future ones.
"It could even be used as a tool in recruiting," Johnson said. "Look, we have the best watermelons in the world in Arkansas and you get to eat them at practice for free. So it's a good thing."