"I play the game because of the moments I had in the backyard."
Defensive end Anthony Johnson's roots lie with those of former Jets RB and high school star Joe McKnight.
"Growing up in New Orleans, there wasn't too much to look at — our Saints weren't too good," Johnson told Eric Allen and Larry Hardesty on Inside the Jets. "But at the end of the day, Joe McKnight was such a great role model for the young kids like myself and aspiring football players that wanted to be something in life."
In his two years playing varsity football at John Curtis Christian High School, McKnight totaled 1,884 yards, playing all three phases of the game. He averaged 15.8 yards per rush and 30.6 per reception while scoring 30 touchdowns. McKnight eventually put his name on the radar as the nation's top-ranked high school recruit from Louisiana.
"As a player, he was a legend," Johnson said. "Gatorade Player of the Year, Mr. Louisiana, he had everything. Collegiately, he did it all at USC, got drafted here and made many plays in the NFL. It was just sad to see a man of that magnitude lost to something at that degree. I just continue to pray for that family in their time of need and at the end of the day, that's all we can do as the Jets organization and a family."
Johnson said his desire to play organized football really blossomed from watching McKnight's John Curtis Patriots win back-to-back state championships in 2006-07.
"He kind of started a trend that trickled down in Louisiana. I don't like to boast too much, but when it comes to football, I think 'the Boot' has the best of the best. Joe started it off, then it followed with me, I was the number two player in the country in high school. Then Tyrann Mathieu came out of nowhere, Leonard Fournette was right after him. Joe started something, he kind of brought a spotlight down there to Louisiana football. The first high school game I saw was on TV, it was John Curtis vs. Hoover, Alabama. It was something I never saw before and wanted to be a part of. Joe McKnight started something big."
In light of the recent events that led to the tragic loss of a childhood idol and Louisiana legend, Johnson doesn't take anything for granted and wears his heart on his sleeve — as a NOLA native.
"At the end of the day, it's about playing for something more," he said. "I'm one of the guys that I'm blessed enough to play the game and have received a lot of benefits. I play the game because of the moments I had in the backyard. I buckle up that chinstrap because of those days I had when I was younger. I remember the days I wanted to be an NFL player."