Football

Ex-Cat Johnson learning from T.O.

Steve Johnson says he has not sampled the new breakfast cereal T.O.'s Honey Nut Toasted Flakes.

"Nah, no cereal," Johnson says with a playful laugh. "But I got my popcorn ready, man."

You know, because it's gonna be a show.

This summer, Johnson is getting an up-close-and-personal look at Terrell Owens.

The former Kentucky wideout and the polarizing wide receiver known nationwide by the initials T.O. are now NFL teammates in Buffalo.

After being unceremoniously dumped from America's Team by Jerry Jones in the off-season, Owens signed a one-year contract with the Bills.

For Johnson — catcher of the game-winning touchdowns in UK's 2007 upsets of both No. 9 Louisville and No. 1 LSU — that move is the epitome of a mixed blessing.

On the plus side, it means the Northern California product is now working with one of the football idols of his childhood. Owens first became an NFL star with the San Francisco 49ers.

"It's pretty cool having T.O. on the same team with me," Johnson said Monday, via phone, following a Bills practice. "For anyone who grew up in San Francisco when I did, he was the guy you watched all the time. He was huge with the Niners."

So what is Owens really like?

"What you see on TV, he's nothing like that," Johnson said. "Everybody says he's this big team disrupter — and I'll admit, it's early here; maybe I just haven't seen it yet — but he hasn't been anything like that. In the receivers room, he's always joking."

On the debit side, Owens' presence in western New York makes for a very crowded Bills wide receiving corps. There are at least seven wideouts, including Johnson, with a compelling case to make the opening-day roster.

Problem is, most NFL teams keep no more than six wide receivers.

That gins up the anxiety for Johnson, even though the seventh-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft played well down the stretch last season as a rookie.

The fact that he missed time in training camp this summer due to a painful rib cartilage injury hasn't tamped down that tension.

"I'm still sore," Johnson said, "but I can move and maneuver."

Currently, Johnson is listed third string behind starter Lee Evans and kick return specialist/receiver Roscoe Parrish at one wideout spot.

Owens is the listed starter at the other wide receiver position.

"When you're a seventh-round draft pick, I don't think you're going to feel real secure," Johnson said. "I just try to do something every day that makes the coaches notice me and, hopefully, think 'that guy can help us.' "

A year ago, Johnson did not see any action until an Oct. 5 game against Arizona. On Dec. 14, he caught the first touchdown of his NFL career against the Jets.

"To score your first touchdown with Brett Favre there on the field, that's crazy," Johnson said.

The 6-foot-2, 202-pounder added another TD catch against Denver the following week and finished his first NFL season with 10 catches in 10 games.

Not shockingly, those numbers pale in comparison to what the junior college transfer did in his final year at Kentucky when Johnson caught 60 passes and 13 touchdowns.

Yet Johnson became almost as well known for his motivational free-style raps as for the footballs he caught from Andre Woodson.

A performance of one of Johnson's pre-game performances taped by the UK sports video department and posted on YouTube has more than 358,000 hits.

"I didn't even know they were taping it," Johnson said. "It's wild that it has so many hits."

Before his senior year at Kentucky, Johnson married his longtime girlfriend Britney. The couple now have two children, daughter Miyah, 2, and son Stevie, who is four months old.

"He's over 20 inches already," Johnson says of his son. "The little dude is long."

With a newborn in a Buffalo apartment, you might wonder how Johnson gets any sleep the night before practices.

"He does OK. Miyah is the one who keeps us up," Johnson said. "She always wants to watch Elmo and Barney."

As he fights to make the Bills roster, Miyah's dad spends a good bit of time watching how another famous character does things.

Johnson may have been joking about the popcorn; but he does keep his eyes on T.O.

"I study how he makes his cuts, how he gets out of his cuts," Johnson said. "The dude has over 900 (actually 951) catches, why wouldn't I watch how he does it?"

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