He’s a professional athlete in the NFL, having been a Fullback with the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Originally starting out as a Linebacker at the University of Tennessee. He’s a true southern gentleman, born and raised in North Carolina. He’s family oriented and one of four sons, all who have played sports. Most importantly he is a God fearing Christian man and uses his platform to share the gospel, every chance he gets.
Throughout the interview I not only got a glimpse of the camaraderie within the football league, but also learned what it means to have “Faith On and Off the Field”. We covered Faith, Family, Football, and for my ladies, even Finding Love. On this in depth interview we got real and he got vulnerable while we talked about hardships, dreams, and what he is looking for in a future wife. Despite asking him some very personal and hard questions. I found Austin to be gracious, accommodating, humble, and very transparent. I hope you’re inspired, encouraged, and more on fire for God after reading through my interview with Austin Johnson.
How did you come to know Christ? Gave my life to Christ, my Jr. year of college while attending a camp in Colorado, called Athletes in Action, which would change my life for the better. The camp teaches athletes to integrate Christ within the sport you play. Through this camp, “God shook my whole life upside down and showed me what life is really all about, I was broken and he striped me of my pride – I was very prideful back then. He showed me that life is so much bigger than sports & more than myself.”
You share your faith a lot on social media and have expressed wanting to use your platform to spread the gospel. What ways are you doing that? One way is by using social media to let people know that I am a man of God. I do speaking engagements and anytime I get the chance to share my faith, I try to do it.
What topics do you speak on for your speaking engagements? If I’m speaking for FCA I share my testimony, about not giving up, to keep pushing forward, and that the Lord’s leading you on a certain path. With schools, that can be tough but I make sure the kids know that I wouldn’t be where I am without my Lord and Savior. When I sign autographs I always write a scripture down. Every chance I get, I try to share.
What scripture verses do you include with your autograph? Ephesians 6:11, (HCSB) “Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics[a] of the Devil.” This is the first verse I ever memorized and have always thought it was a cool verse, just so cool to put on the armor of God. That verse meant so much then and is what helped start my walk with the Lord.
What are some of your favorite verses? Ephesians 6:11, (HCSB)“Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics[a] of the Devil.” I love the Psalms, like Psalm 119:105, (HCSB) “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.” Colossians 3:20, (HCSB) “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” Galatians 2:20, (HCSB) “And I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body,[a] I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
What’s the overall message you want to convey? My career has been rocky and has not gone how I wanted, pretty much my whole career. In college, I went through a bunch of coaches and have been cut a lot in the NFL. My message is to never give up. I love to share whenever I’m doing evangelistic speaking, that when you get knocked done the Lord’s path for you is so much greater than what you can see and He has a plan. Especially when things go bad in life I want to get across to people that bad things are going to happen in life and that’s just the way it is and it’s so easy, just to give up or so easy to just say woe is me when you can’t see what the Lord has for you. When we get to Heaven we can look back at those moments and the first thing we will say to the Lord is, “Oh that’s why this happened, that led me here.’ It’s not only with your work but with relationships and certain circumstances in your life. So, I definitely try to get across the message that bad things are going to happen but the Lord has a plan for you. Better than you could ever imagine and you just have to trust that. People ask me a lot, “Why would He cause this suffering?” The best answer I can give them is that the Lord allows these sufferings for a reason. An example I give is when you have a sick child, you take them to the Dr. to get shots, which causes them pain, to make them better. Yet they wonder, “Why would you do this to me?” That’s the same thing we’re doing when we’re going through all this suffering, we’re asking the Lord, “Why are you doing this to me?” Little do we know that He is saving us from something that’s going to probably, ultimately take us away from being with him in Heaven. He’s making sure we’re going to have eternal life and that’s definitely a message I try to get across.
Having a platform comes with a lot of responsibility. What example do you hope to set for your fans, for those watching you? A lot of that is on other people. If you’re going to talk the talk, you need to walk the walk. If I’m going to put pictures out there and tell people I’m a Christian, they better see that in my life and the way I do that is I try to be as genuine and graceful to everyone I meet, that’s tough for me. My brothers are unbelievable and their so graceful. Sometimes I wish I was like them because for some reason I got the personality, that probably because I’m a Fullback in the NFL, I’m supposed to be mean and tough. I’m quiet at times and I get kind of moody sometimes and these are my flaws, but its definitely a fault of mine. I have to really remind myself that someone could be having a terrible day and just a simple gesture could make their day way better. I think at the end of the day you just have to walk the walk and show people who you’re and be graceful. Especially in our work when you lose a game it’s a terrible time and everyone’s upset and everyone’s mad but no one really knows what’s going on back at home, so asking someone how their day is can go a long way.
How does faith play into sports, on and off the field? I try to make faith the #1 thing in my life. One of the hardest things about the NFL is football is a very selfish game! When I say that, I mean you have to be selfish in that you have to look out for yourself if you want to stick around, if you want to play in the game a long time. You have to be competitive! You have to know that the person across from you is trying to take money away from you and from your family. Money that’s going to feed you and ultimately bring you success in your career, it’s a selfish game. The biggest mistake guys make and I try not to let it happen to me, is it becomes our identity. I think football is definitely a huge idol in a lot of people’s lives and that’s why you hear stories of guys who can’t get over when footballs over. It’s such an idol in their life and they feel lost. So, I try to remind myself all the time that God is first, then football. If football was taken from me right now would that be my identity or is my identity in Christ and I’m enough! I try to remind myself of that. It’s definitely hard because you get so caught up in the game, camp, and the season, you’re just surrounded by it all the time. It’s definitely a tough thing to do and I’m at fault a lot of the times. I might go a few days, and be like, “Oh my Gosh I haven’t been in the word enough.” I spend time in the Word by reading devotions on a Bible app sometimes but I like book in hand better. If I’m doing a Bible study then I’ll read from Bible in hand.
Can faith exist within football, does it exist within the team? We have a good core group of guys who are believers and everyone tries to rally around each other and bring each other closer to Christ. We have chapels and small groups. It’s a normal job. When I was in Tampa I went to a Wednesday service and small groups within the church. It’s hard to go on Sundays. Though I try to plug myself into the community just as if I was a sales man there in the city. But yes, faith is a huge part especially in my football career. Obviously, we pray before games and memorize scripture together and certain guys hold each other accountable. I’m surrounded with these guys so much and you have to surround yourself with good guys because obviously there will be temptations and things that will try to bring you down or take you away from what’s important in your life. You have to be aware of those and remind yourself what’s important and have accountability within that group.
You’ve played football all your life, and with guys there’s a lot of locker room talk. Is it difficult to only be a player on the field and not off the field?
Yeah, it’s difficult. That’s what I was kind of saying earlier about having accountability partners, cause conversations at lunch or in the locker room can go in directions that you don’t want to be a part of and that’s when you just got to walk away. It’s going to happen that’s just the way it is. I don’t want there to be a time where I leave a locker room and someone says, “Hey what do you know about Austin Johnson?” If I walk out of that room and they don’t know I’m a Christian then I failed that locker room! So, I want to make sure, because it’s important to me, that people know that. Now do they not talk about stuff because I’m in there? No! It’s a bunch of cocky guys that, you know, they talk about what they want to talk about. That kind of stuff is going to happen in locker rooms but I mean ultimately the whole locker room in general is a mix group of good guys and a bunch of guys that are curious, the guys that aren’t Christians. There’s probably more Christians on the team then you would think. It’s just a chance for the guys who are Christian, to spread the gospel and bring the curious ones to bible studies and just kind of work in their lives.
So how do you handle temptations and opportunities that you’re faced with that could compromise your beliefs? Having accountability partners, staying in the word, and walking away. Obviously, we’re all sinners and we all fall short. I just try to make sure I’m doing everything I can to make sure that I’m living the way the Lord has called me to live. By living out the path He has out for me and not my own selfish desires.
What are some of your Christian values and beliefs? Basically Galatians 2:20, (HCSB) “And I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body,[a] I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” That’s kind of my Christian values. I think that’s the most important thing. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe He died for my sins.
How do you and other Christian football players help each other stay true to your Christian values? Loving on each other, getting to know each other, and spending time together. A lot of my buddies in the NFL are married with kids, so I go and spend time with their kids and show them that I care for them. I think that holding each other accountable is definitely an important thing.
Recently you were released, so what does that mean for your career? What’s next for you? Yeah, I got fired! That’s what it means. I’m a free agent right now, so technically I’m unemployed and looking for another team to call. Any team can call me now and sign me to their team. So, I just wait by my phone and hopefully I get called. If I don’t, then looks like I got to move on. Yeah, it’s not a good thing.
How has your faith impacted how you’ve handled being released? What do you do in the meantime? Yeah, it’s tough. When you get released its very tough because when you’re released after a few weeks you kind of start wondering what’s next. You’re definitely tested because like I said earlier, it kind of shows you how you’re making this an idol. When that’s something I try not to do. So, I just try to keep my mind busy and just know that the suffering, if you want to call it suffering, I mean it’s not legitimately suffering. I know people are suffering a lot more than that, but the hardships I’m going through currently, is for a reason. I’m not supposed to be in Tampa right at this moment. Now if I go back there I will get immediately plugged back in and do what I have to do no matter where I go. But the Lord doesn’t see that for me right now. He wants me to be here and that’s given me time to spend with my family, with my grandma who is 90 and she’s been in the hospital every month. I’m getting to be at home and spend time with her and who knows if that’s the reason. Even if I played another 5 years after this moment. Would I look back ten years from now and be able to say, that I now know the Lord had released me specifically at that time so I could spend those couple months with my grandma. You just got to keep the faith and know that it’s for a reason. You were talking about values earlier and that’s one of the biggest things I preach to people is that everything happens for a reason. I truly believe that and I’ll stand by it forever.
Regarding relationships with the opposite sex, do you set boundaries within those relationships that reflect your values? Do I set boundaries, yeah! If she doesn’t know who I am and I don’t know who she is I’ll ask the questions like, “So do you believe?”, “Are you a Christian”, or I’ll ask, “Do you believe Jesus died for your sins?” I’ll be blunt about that and once that conversation gets going there’s obviously things said and discussed based off that. I wouldn’t date someone that wasn’t a believer. I think that’s extremely important in a relationship. My thing with relationships is that I definitely want to get married one day and I want to have kids and I want to do all that, I mean I’m getting older. Through out my career, I’ve asked God why haven’t I found the person to share my life with! For a while, I thought maybe it was because I wasn’t strong enough. I thought maybe I’d be too weak, you know, or I’d fail her or whatever that might be. During my career, I was solid to the Saints for four years, I didn’t get cut really that much. Then like these past two years I’ve been kind of cut and signed back on a bunch of teams, been living in and out of my suitcase. I just realized if I was married with kids right now it would not be a good time. They would have been through a lot with me going through selfish problems that I go through with being cut and trying to find my way in this league. With being signed back, then getting cut, moving to Tampa, and then moving back home. You know, I had a bunch of work outs last year and I was kind of like flying all around and it’s just not a steady family life. I would have felt terrible and maybe would have had to retire because I wouldn’t have wanted to put them through that.
As a Christian man what are some things you look for or desire in relationships with the opposite sex, in a future wife?
I think God puts certain people, in our lives. Whenever I meet certain people or I’m in a relationship or dating someone I look for someone who is a Christian, solid in her faith, she’s independent, she’s family oriented, that’s she’s just a graceful, and loving person. I want someone that challenges me. I want someone that makes me a better person and makes me want to be a better person and I want to be able to challenge her. And make her want to be a better person. So, I think those are huge qualities in a relationship and something that I definitely look for.
How pivotal is your faith within relationships and overall in life? Number one.
As a Christian what advice would you give other athletes regarding the pressures, rejection, disappointments, and temptations they may face?
I mean the biggest piece of advice I’m going to give is you’re going to fail, you’re going to get rejected, and someone’s going to tell you you’re not good enough and that’s fine. At that moment in your life you have a choice to make, you can either accept that and go move on to something else in your life or say ok. Keep trying, keep pushing forward, and know that the Lord is leading you in that direction, if He wants you to do that. I’m not going to lie to you, I’m not the best athlete or the best football player in the world. The Lord knew what He was doing. He put me in the right situations and He has given me a platform to share that faith and that’s what I try to do. So, I would just tell them to keep pushing on and don’t give up! You don’t know when you’re going to have that break through or when the Lord’s going to push you through a moment. Whenever I talk to schools I bring a picture and its of two guys hammering rocks. There’s one guy that looks like he’s hammering the rocks really hard and the other guy you see him walking away because he was done hammering but what both of them don’t know is that when they knock down those rocks, there’s gold. So, I tell people to, “Keep hammering because you don’t know when you’re going to get a break through or when that golds going to come. But, I promise you, if your living your life the right way and you’re a Christian and you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. He is leading you the way you should go!”
**UPDATE: In the time since our interview, I was able to catch up with Austin and he informed me that he has been re-signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, joining them for the rest of the season. This answer to prayer solidifies the message that Austin shared in the interview, always trust God and never give up. In Austin’s own words he said, “God knows what He’s doing. Patience and faith!”
We wish Austin a safe and successful football season. Go Bucs!!