Former USC RB Stafon Johnson Looked NFL-Bound Before a Tragic Weightlifting Incident Nearly Killed Him

Stafon Johnson looked ready to follow in the footsteps of USC’s great running backs.

Like LenDale White and Reggie Bush before him, Johnson appeared ready to be drafted in 2010. Johnson opened his senior season in 2009 as one of the rising running backs in college football.

Then came a weightlifting accident that nearly killed Johnson and changed the rest of his life, including his NFL dreams.

Stafon Johnson was a dangerous running back at USC

Standing 5 feet 11 inches and weighing 222 pounds, Stafon Johnson brought a bruising presence to the USC Trojans.

Johnson picked up 17 rushing yards on three carries in 2006 before taking a larger role the next year. Johnson ran for 673 yards and five touchdowns on 6.9 yards per carry in 11 games.

In 2008, Johnson led the Trojans in rushing yards (705) and touchdowns (nine). Led by quarterback Mark Sanchez‘s 34 touchdowns, USC went 12-1 and defeated Penn State in the Rose Bowl.

Johnson and the USC Trojans each entered the 2009 season with high expectations. The starting running back role belonged to Johnson, who could ensure he was drafted with a strong senior season.

Stafon Johnson nearly died in a 2009 weightlifting accident

Stafon Johnson started the 2009 season well, totaling 157 yards and five touchdowns in his first four games. The bulky Johnson averaged 4.9 yards per carry as the USC Trojans opened the season 3-1.

Then came the events of Sept. 28, 2009. Johnson lost control of a barbell during a morning workout, and it landed on his neck. 

The bar weighed 275 pounds and crushed his voice box.

Paramedics rushed Johnson to a local hospital, and he underwent more than seven hours of throat surgery. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, USC head coach Pete Carroll and strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle noted how much of a fluke the tragedy appeared to be.

“I’ve seen players have the bar slip and fall onto their chest, but never in my 25 years of coaching have I heard of someone dropping a bar on their throat,” Carlisle said.

The throat injury ended Johnson’s season after four games. USC went 9-4 in 2009, and Carroll left when the season ended to take the Seattle Seahawks’ head coaching position, a role he still holds in 2020.

Johnson overcame the accident and stuck with football


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The frightening throat injury could have easily been the end of Stafon Johnson’s football career.

Instead, Johnson kept working and signed with the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent. Unfortunately for Johnson, he suffered a dislocated ankle in his first preseason game.

Although Johnson spent time with the Titans and Redskins, he never saw action in a regular-season NFL game. He settled with the school in January 2012, although the terms were kept confidential.

Dorsey High School (Calf.), where Dorsey played in the early 2000s, hired him as its new football coach in December 2019. Dorsey has not yet played this season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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