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A Hero on and off the field

By Ralphine Major

He was scheduled to speak on Super Bowl Sunday last year, but was given a trip to the Super Bowl instead.  A few months later, he captivated an entire congregation for nearly an hour with his riveting story and testimony.  It is a story of hopes and dreams, football and shattered dreams, faith and family, and a fulfilled life of joy and praise.  “I’ve heard it twice,” Dr. Randy Macon said as he closed out the Sunday service.  “I could have listened another hour,” a lady told me on the way out.  I even saw a nurse, trained in the treatment of trauma injuries, moved to tears.  She was not alone.  Focus readers probably know the story, since it has been well documented in the media.  I thought I knew all the details.  But, hearing the story from Inky himself was special.

At first glance, he looked as though he could still be a threat on the football field.  With enthusiasm and personality bursting through that smile, Inky (Inquoris) Johnson shared about his young life.  Born into poverty, he was one of fourteen in his family who lived in a two-bedroom house.  Though drugs were all around, Inky never used them.  Once his family’s home was set on fire and burned to the ground.  Another time, the family’s Christmas presents were stolen.  Inky’s competitive nature would be the key to rising above his circumstances.  As a youngster, Inky practiced drills by his mother’s car lights.

A big step on the road to his success came when Phillip Fulmer, then Coach of the Tennessee Volunteers, offered him a scholarship.  Things were going great.  On the verge of NFL greatness, Inky had already talked to NFL scouts.  But, a single play changed everything.  On Saturday, September 9, 2006, Inky made a clean hit in a football game in Knoxville’s Neyland Stadium.  He could not get up.  A severe injury ended his career and changed his life.  There was nerve damage to his right arm, and he was in a fight for his life.  Time in the emergency room and later at the Mayo Clinic put life into perspective for this young man.  He was just hoping to be home for Christmas.

As I watched him on the stage and listened to him speak, his arm hung limp by his side.  As much as Inky rose above the poverty of his young life, he has risen even higher in his success and spiritual walk.  After his devastating injury, Inky had to learn to write with his left hand.  He became the first in his family to graduate from college when he received his degree from The University of Tennessee.   He continued his education by earning a Master’s degree.  As role models go, Inky is “cream of the crop” and was recently involved in the Emerald Youth Foundation Golf Classic in Knoxville.

This former football player is now a motivational speaker, and he has written a book.  “Inky, An Amazing Story of Faith and Perseverance” by Inky Johnson with Jeff Hagood, is dedicated to his grandmother.  It includes poetry that Inky has written and forewords by Inky’s former Tennessee teammates, Eric Berry of the Kansas City Chiefs and Jerod Mayo of the New England Patriots.  I stood in line for an hour to buy the book and have Inky autograph it, as did Will and Luke Simpson shown here sharing a moment with their hero.  The Simpson brothers attend Wallace Memorial Baptist Church with their parents, Bruce and Laura Simpson, and grandmother, Barbara Sears.

These days, life is far more than touchdowns and tackles for No. 29.  His story is amazing.  Inky is a witness and inspiration for others to overcome life’s problems.  Even in adversity, Inky says, “God is still good.”  He stands on the promise in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Who could have imagined that a young man named “Inky” would become a household name not by becoming a great in the NFL, but through his powerful witness in the face of adversity?  And Inky says he wouldn’t change a thing!  To learn more about Inky Johnson and how to purchase his book or schedule him to speak, visit his website at www.inkyjohnson.com.

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