Johnson's football career ended in 2006 against Air Force, when he collided hard with an Air Force receiver. Johnson was momentarily knocked unconscious after the impact. He then underwent emergency vascular surgery to repair a severe injury to his right shoulder and arm.
An artery had ruptured and an aneurysm had developed. Doctors replaced the damaged vein with one from his leg. But much damage had been done to nerves in his neck and arm. Johnson eventually underwent a nerve transplant at the Mayo Clinic.
"It was scary," Johnson said. "I was out for a minute and then to see everything going on at the hospital, it kind of hit me. I was pretty seriously hurt. But I had a lot of support from teammates and coaches. I knew I could fight through it."
Johnson hopes someday to regain full use of his right arm and shoulder. He wears a sling to keep his right arm elevated and secure. He graduated last year, earning a degree in political science, and he's now working on a master's degree.
Even though his football career was over, he remained a part of the team as a student assistant and hopes to make a career of coaching.
"This is a big transition," Johnson said, "but I'm enjoying every moment of it. I'm blessed the coaches are giving me the opportunity to still be around my teammates."
Tennessee players describe Johnson as inspirational.
"Inky is the heart of this team, period," Tennessee running back Arian Foster said. "No one would tell you otherwise. He is still the motivating factor. I consider him a brother. It's just the inspiration he brings. ... It's about what he brings with his heart and passion and what he believes, it's just priceless."
"Inky Johnson and his family are what college football and the term student athlete are all about," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "He's the ultimate team guy and someone we have tremendous, tremendous respect for."
For the third straight year, the Football Writers Association of America and the FedEx Orange Bowl will announce a weekly nominee each Wednesday during the season. A blue-ribbon panel will determine the winner from all of the nominees. The winner of the FedEx Orange Bowl/FWAA Courage Award will be announced in December and be presented with the trophy.
The Courage Award was created by ESPN The Magazine's senior writer and UT graduate Gene Wojciechowski, also a FWAA member. A select group of writers from the FWAA vote on the winner each year. The requirements for nomination include displaying courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through hardship.
Previous winners of the FWAA's Courage Award are Navy's Zerbin Singleton (2007), Clemson's Ray Ray McElrathbey (2006), the Tulane football team (2005), Memphis' Haracio Colen (2004), San Jose State's Neil Parry (2003) and Toledo's William Bratton (2002).
For more information in the FedEx Orange Bowl/FWAA Courage Award, contact George Schroeder at 541-953-4080 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the FWAA Web site at footballwriters.com.
2008 FEDEX ORANGE BOWL COURAGE AWARD NOMINEES
· Sept. 24: Johnell Neal, Central Florida
· Oct. 8: Inquoris "Inky" Johnson, Tennessee