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A 'special' night: An inside look at Kerryon Johnson's draft night
Kerryon Johnson poses with his family shortly after he was drafted No. 43 overall by the Detroit Lions on Friday night. <i>Photo: Greg Ostendorf/Auburn Athletics</i>
Kerryon Johnson poses with his family shortly after he was drafted No. 43 overall by the Detroit Lions on Friday night. Photo: Greg Ostendorf/Auburn Athletics
May 1, 2018

By Greg Ostendorf

AUBURN, Ala. -- When Kerryon Johnson heard his name called in the second round of the NFL draft Friday night, it's a moment he'll never forget. It's the moment he'd been working toward his entire life, the moment his childhood dream became a reality.

There was no guarantee when Johnson would hear his name called or that he'd hear his name called at all that night. Maybe that's why he kept the viewing party rather small. The whole town of Auburn might have come if they were invited. But as much as he loves the Auburn fans, he preferred to spend that moment with only his close friends and family.

"To have a small number is good," Johnson said. "You could have 200 people, but to have the friends that are really there for you and friends you've known for -- some of them 10-plus years, some of them five-plus years -- just to know that they're supporting you. That's special.

"It's not easy just sitting here and watching somebody else accomplish a dream, but they did it and they supported me for it, and I thank them for sure."

6:07 p.m. CT

Johnson had been buzzing around the room talking to various people, but when NFL Roger Goodell took the podium to announce the beginning of the second round, the Auburn running back took his seat at the table where he was sandwiched between his mom and dad.

It was around the same time that some of his former teammates -- Nick Coe, Marlon Davidson, Marquel Harrell, Mike Horton and C.J. Tolbert -- began arriving to support Johnson.

Harrell knows him as well as anybody. The two were roommates at Auburn.

"It was real special," Harrell said. "Especially coming in from freshman year, just coming in and watching him work and grow over the years -- that's one of my best friends in this lifetime -- so it was just real special to be here and support him. I wouldn't miss it for the world."

6:26 p.m. CT

The first two picks off the board in the second round were both offensive guards. That didn't mean much to Johnson, but it was great news for former Auburn teammate Braden Smith. Sure enough, three picks later, the senior guard heard his name called by the Indianapolis Colts with pick No. 37, and the room where Johnson was watching went crazy.

"When Braden went earlier, I was just as happy," Johnson said. "When you put in so much work with these guys -- we see each other more than we see our family, more than we see our other friends -- and to see those guys, they're doing the same thing I'm doing, accomplishing the dream that they've dreamt for who knows how long."

The pick after Smith was USC running back Ronald Jones II, who was the second running back (Nick Chubb) taken in the second round already. Was Johnson next?

6:50 p.m. CT

Twenty-five minutes had passed since Smith was drafted. At the time, it probably felt like an eternity, but while the Miami Dolphins were in the midst of taking Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki, Johnson got a phone call from the Detroit Lions. They had just traded with the New England Patriots, moving up eight spots, and were now on the clock.

"Honestly, I'm sitting there thinking, `I hope it's not a wrong number,'" joked his dad, Kerry Johnson. "But it's exciting. It's a `hold your breath' moment. You have some expectations, you have some idea, but still it's a `hold your breath' moment."

It wasn't a wrong number. It was the Lions on the other line telling Johnson they were going to take him with the next pick. He had to wipe tears from his eyes.

"It's crazy," Johnson said. "You get the phone call and you're still trying to process what's really going on. This is what you worked for for 20 years, just getting that one moment, somebody taking that one chance on you. I have to thank them for doing that, and now it's my turn to hold up my end. I've got to get up there, go to work and do what I do."

6:55 p.m. CT

The two sides got off the phone before the pick was made. So when Goodell walked to the podium with former Lions' receiver Nate Burleson, everybody in the room knew the name about to be called. Burleson played to the Cowboys fans at the draft, delaying the moment, but when he finally announced that the Lions were taking Johnson, the room went berserk.

"We always knew he was going to get to this point," Horton said. "So it was real special just to be here and be able to support him through that. It was just great to see him achieve his dream."

"It's still sinking in," his dad said shortly after the pick was announced. "You think and you hope. We tell our kids if you work hard enough for your dream, it happens. To see him have a chance to realize his dream, it still hasn't sunk in yet."

Johnson spent the next 30 minutes receiving congratulations from the friends and family who were on hand. He took phone calls from Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and his position coach Tim Horton. He then jumped on a conference call with the Lions' media members, his first order of business with his new team.

Later, former Auburn running back Peyton Barber showed up to congratulate Johnson. He wasn't drafted, but he made the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster out of training camp last year and knows a thing or two about what it takes to play in the NFL.

"I feel like the NFL is all about heart," Barber said. "And that's something that Kerryon definitely has. Not to mention, he's an amazing back."

The next step for Johnson will be to report to Detroit, his new hometown. The high in the Motor City on Tuesday is 82 degrees, but just two weeks prior, there was snow in the forecast.

"It's going to be a little different than Alabama," Johnson said. "It's going to be much colder temperatures. But at the same time, they have an indoor (stadium). You just make adjustments. Montravius (Adams) went to Green Bay and made it through, so I think I can make it through."

All that matters is that Johnson is now an NFL running back.

Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for Follow him on Twitter:



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