Protect Your Dreams
By Lane Johnson
Protection to me means pulling whatever you value very close and making that a priority in your life.
Wherever I’ve been, I’ve been surrounded by great people who have done great things for me. It’s molded me and led how I think about protection.
We moved from Cold Spring, Texas to Groveton, Texas my eighth-grade year. It was a logging and farming community back in the 50s, 60s and 70s. There couldn’t have been much more than a thousand people, and a lot of them raised cattle. We had 33 kids in my graduating class. Very country. Football is very serious in East Texas, like a religion. Lots of great athletes come from there, and I’m proud to be one of them.
I think a lot of my competitive nature comes from my parents and was instilled in me at an early age. My dad’s a worker, a grinder. He was a pretty talented athlete but couldn’t play any sports growing up because he had to work. When I was eight years old, I remember being in the car with my mom and telling her my dream was to play pro ball. She had heard a lot of stuff out of me at that age, so she probably just thought it was just another thing I was saying.
Growing up, I was around a lot of blue-collar people who really didn’t need much to be happy. Didn’t mean I didn’t face adversity. Looking back, I wasn’t recruited very highly coming out of high school. I had to go the junior college route because I didn’t have any offers. I knew I had to make my way and be resilient. And I knew I had to keep progressing to turn the negatives into positives. That’s something my friends, coaches and family had a big impact on.
No matter if it was basketball, football or baseball, my coaches, teachers and parents always supported me. My freshman year, I remember one of my agriculture teachers telling me, “If you’re walking to class, eating, studying — whatever you’re doing, do it to the best of your ability. When you practice, give it everything you have. Now do that the rest of your life, every day of your life.” That taught me that life’s about effort and making your own luck.
I played quarterback in high school. Going into my junior year, I remember my coach telling me, “You know, you’re not going to be a quarterback.” I said, “Hey, this is the only position I want to play.”
But he knew I was going to be a tight end or something else because my frame was so big. So, when I graduated high school, I was probably 215 pounds. When I got to JUCO, the coaches told me I’d be 280, 290, maybe 300. When I got to Oklahoma, I knew I could hold 325. And I guess I knew I wasn’t playing quarterback anymore.
After moving to the defensive line, a position coach asked me to try offensive tackle during spring practices. I stonewalled the guy on my first rep and stayed there for the remaining practices. Coach said, “Man, you’re going to be a first-round pick.” Being a third-string defensive end and mop-up duty tight end, then hearing that was the biggest confidence boost —and the biggest turning point —in my career.
Nobody wants to be a tackle growing up; everybody wants to play the skill positions. But I was hungry, man. I wanted to protect my dream of getting to the league. I knew my speed and knew that I was a freak athlete. And I was eager to get on the field and play. Once I started getting time, I had no complaints. I felt like I was part of the team and contributing. Being open to new advice and opinions helped me become the player I am today. That guidance ultimately helped me become a first-round pick. I wouldn’t be here without it.
Before the draft, I realized I could be a top-ten pick. The day I was drafted, my father told me I’d have a lot of friends now. That day and the years after taught me that it’s about being around the right people; people that have your best interests at heart. You learn more about the people around you and yourself as you move forward.
Football has been the biggest blessing to me, from the people I met to my teammates. It taught me measurements. You can measure your discipline. You can measure your effort. You can measure your will to win for another person. You can measure your love for a teammate by what you do.
When I got to the pros, I understood that protection on the field meant protecting the franchise. And by “franchise”, that’s our quarterback. It’s also my job to protect the running back and create running lanes for him to hit. Whenever you watch me on film, you’ll see I make different movements than other guys. It took discipline to get here, plus a whole lot of effort. I learned how to master my craft because these defenders are so athletic.
There are no secrets. That’s the beauty with film, it’s all out there. The defenders I go up against are the biggest and fastest they’ve ever been. So, I had to match that with intensity; being in the moment at all times.
Just ignore the noise and focus on playing at an All-Pro level. I always want to prove that I’m the best — I didn’t come to be second to anyone.
Even when I was injured during a playoff season, I still wanted to be the best teammate I could be. As the games wound down, the intensity picked up. I didn’t want to be a distraction, so I tried to help the team prepare for games and stay focused on football —getting ready mentally off the field and being a positive influence on them.
I want to look back on my career with no regrets. Any team I’ve played for, my teammates are who I was protecting. A lot of my time is spent around the game, but my family is always on my mind. They’re everything and everything you need. Whenever I’m done, I want to help fulfill their dreams and aspirations. It’s all about protecting them. My parents protected me, and now I can help them out. I’ve been able to look out for my mom, even though she never asked me to. Keeping her comfortable was top of the list.
When I became a father, it was an instinct to protect my child. That never fades. As time goes on, it’s intensified. With the money I’ve earned, I want them to value a dollar. I want them to be provided for and educated, but not entitled. And to learn from my mistakes — I’ve put myself in bad positions that cost me. I’ve gone through hell. But, I’ve battled back.
I think about starting out in Groveton, having those dreams of pro ball as a kid and hitting the gym every day. And, how relationships along the way have taken me places I’ve wanted to go and had never been to. As time moved on, I’ve had the right team around me to make better decisions. Protection to me means pulling whatever you value very close and making that a priority in your life. You mature, your responsibilities change — along with your mindset. It becomes about protecting the ones you love.