Over a decade ago, Inky Johnson saw his playing career end prematurely after sustaining a brutal, career-ending injury in just the second game of the 2006 season. But Johnson didn’t let that setback derail his life.
Johnson suffered an injury that permanently paralyzed his right arm during the Vols’ game against Air Force in 2006, just two games into the season. Johnson had a bright future on the football field as a defensive back, and he looked to be one of the stars on UT’s roster in 2006 after a solid 2005 season.
But his future held something different.
Johnson finished his Tennessee career with 40 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, an interception, 10 passes defended, and a forced fumble. But his impact goes far beyond the football field.
Despite that traumatizing event, Johnson didn’t lose himself. Now, he helps thousands upon thousands of people with his words and actions.
Johnson went on to study psychology after his playing career came to an abrupt end, and he learned how to use public speaking as a tool to reach others. The former Vol is now an acclaimed motivational speaker who has appeared at dozens of events. He’s been the keynote speaker at numerous events as well, and he’s spoken in front of crowds of hundreds and thousands.
On Saturday, the crowd gathered to hear Johnson speak wasn’t the biggest he’s ever talked in front of, but they hold a special place in his heart.
Johnson was asked to come and speak to Tennessee’s current football team prior to their second scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday. Johnson’s message was all about responding to adversity not just as a player, but as a man. He detailed what being a Vol meant to him, and how he had no regrets even while sitting in the hospital bed shortly after his injury.
Tennessee has been bringing in speakers all throughout the fall to talk with the team, but it seems few have had the impact that Johnson did.
According to Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt, Johnson’s message fired up his team before practice on Saturday, and he noticed a difference in them. Pruitt even joked that he needs to bring Johnson in to talk with his team before every practice from now on.
“Inky came in and spoke. I’ve heard him speak before, and he did a fantastic job,” Pruitt said after practice on Saturday. “He talked about what it meant to him to be at Tennessee, and the message that he shared with the players is right on track with what we’ve been talking about since we’ve been here. There was definitely much more energy.
“So my question is, do we have to come get Inky to talk to the team before we go out there and practice every day? But there was more energy to start practice, so that was a positive.”
Tennessee’s players and coaches weren’t the only ones in the room to listen to Johnson speak, though. Johnson’s former coach and Tennessee’s current Athletics Director, Phillip Fulmer, was also in attendance to hear Johnson’s message.
The official Tennessee football Twitter account tweeted out an almost four-minute clip of Johnson’s speech to the team on Saturday. You can watch the full video here:
🙌 𝐌𝐔𝐒𝐓 𝐖𝐀𝐓𝐂𝐇 🙌
“When you press forward in the midst of the opposition … you’re not just building a mentality for the game of football, you’re building a mentality that’s going to sustain you 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now.”@inkyjohnson // #VFL pic.twitter.com/cxyEEXUy8C
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) August 18, 2019