He is now a 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive tackle with a scholarship offer to the University of Notre Dame.
Ethan Johnson could've returned to the football team later on that freshman year, but the doctor advised him against it. His father didn't allow him. Johnson had to prove he was strong enough to take the daily pounding of playing the physical sport.
His parents, both high school swimmers, told Johnson the best thing to strengthen his back would be swimming laps in the pool. So Johnson hit the waters for months. He was angry. On top of that, he did pushups, sit-ups and squats while being teased by his peers. He took it all in stride and then, bam, sophomore season finally rolled around.
"I was fired up," Johnson stated. "All these kids were calling me soft and weak. I was fed up and had worked out for the last year. I had something to prove. I have kept that mentality. People talk and you just have to keep working hard."
The hard work paid dividends rather quickly.
A trim 220 pounds as a sophomore, Johnson still played defensive tackle, and helped lead Lincoln to a state championship. He had roughly 60 tackles including 15 sacks. Oregon and Oregon State verbally offered Johnson after the season, and eventually sent in written scholarship offers. Colorado soon followed.
Johnson decided not to play basketball his sophomore season and took that same drive he had in the pool to the weight room. He added 40 pounds to his frame, maxing out at 315 pounds on the bench press, and repping 505 pounds squatting.
Constantly double-teamed on Friday's this past fall, Johnson had about 80 tackles and 10 sacks.
"I can't stand not getting tackles, so I just hustle to the play," said Johnson, who doesn't play much offense. "I'd like to play middle linebacker because you can go anywhere, you can just fly around. I love just flying around and making plays away from my position."
Doubtful Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis envisioned Johnson playing middle linebacker in an Irish uniform when they mailed his scholarship offer on January 29. Five days later it was in Johnson's mailbox.
Johnson obviously knew the offer was coming. Lincoln head coach Chad Carlson told him that week that he just got done talking to Weis, he was going to offer, and you should give him a call.
"It was exciting," Johnson stated. "He just said I was just the kind of player that they wanted. I had the grades and he said congratulations. I was just amazed. I couldn't believe it. That was my first offer since like September."
The offers will start rolling in now.
Johnson said it was too early for him to come up with a list of favorites. He has only been to Oregon and Oregon State's campuses, but Notre Dame is definitely right there with those two schools.
"I have a lot of interest, they are a great school," Johnson said. "They have a great tradition there. I just want to visit it, and I want to see the place because I've never been to Notre Dame. But from what I've seen and heard and read on the website and seen on TV, it looks like a great place. I'm not going to name any favorites but they are definitely up there.
"I am definitely considering it, that's all I'm saying."
Johnson said it would be cool to stay in-state and attend one of the Pac 10 schools, but leaving the northwest would not be a big deal. He has family all over the country, however, none in Indiana.
"I want a good business school because that's what I want to study," Johnson said. "A nice place to live for four or five years, and a good football team of course. And I want to play. Its kind of like, good education, good football team, and I want to feel comfortable where I'm at."
Johnson is also comfortable as a thrower on the track team. He finished fourth in the state last year in the shot put, and 10th in the javelin. He just missed qualifying for state in the discus, finishing third in the regional. He is getting a little interest from some colleges for his talents.
This summer, Johnson hopes to get on the road and start seeing some schools. He has also attended camps at the in-state schools and that's it. As a sophomore, he ran a 4.8 40-yard dash, but saw that regress to 5.1 last summer because of all that lifting and lack of running. Johnson expects to see his 40 time drop significantly.
While Johnson is real busy, playing basketball again, with track season around the corner, and always staying in shape for football, he still finds time to swim laps on a regular basis. Now when he swims, thoughts of kids teasing him are no longer floating in his mind. He'll eventually be thinking about what big-time school he'll be playing for on Saturdays.