Aug. 30, 2000
Position: Outside Linebacker
Hometown: Lynnwood, Washington
High School: Mariner HS
Career Highlights: Second Team All-Pac-10 (1999)...Team leader and tied for Pac-10 lead with 13 quarterback sacks in 1999...Named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week on September 11 after recording five sacks versus Washington State (second game of 1999 season)
As Stanford football player Riall Johnson headed up the stairs in the Arrillaga Family Sports Center to be interviewed, I tried to make a bit of small talk before our interview.
"Finished with double days," I mumbled.
Johnson didn't smile, didn't laugh and didn't even seem the least bit happy that double days had ended, quite contrary to my expectations and to the reactions of most collegiate football players at the end of this challenging late summer ritual.
Johnson understands the opportunity before him and wants to make the most of it. The fifth-year senior outside linebacker wants to play in the National Football League when his Cardinal career is finished.
He emerged as a professional prospect and one of Stanford's top defensive players after recording a team-high 13 sacks last year to tie for the Pac-10 lead. In only his second season at the outside linebacker position, Johnson earned Second Team All-Pac-10 honors for his efforts.
The 6-3, 240-pound senior begins the 2000 campaign as one of the team's primary defensive leaders and understands his role.
"I am in more of a leadership position this season and the team will depend upon me to make big plays," acknowledged Johnson. "I want both myself and the team to be twice as good as we were last year."
Those are lofty goals for a program that made its first trip to the Rose Bowl last year since 1972 after winning the Pac-10 championship. However, the Cardinal has lost 10 starters from that team, including a pair of current NFL players in quarterback Todd Husak and wide receiver Troy Walters.
Despite the losses, Johnson portrays a comforting sense of quiet confidence both about his own abilities and this year's squad.
"I've set my goals high for this season," said Johnson. "I just have to be consistent. I want to open a lot of eyes because this is my final opportunity in college to show my skills. I'm confident that I can do that. I expect great performances out of myself this year. I do have a fear of failure and that motivates me even more"
Stanford hopes that Riall's determination and attitude is contagious on a Stanford football team that begins the 2000 season this Saturday at Washington State with as many as eight players scheduled to start for the first time in their collegiate career.
Johnson distinctly remembers when he began to understand that his football skills might be something special.
"It was my sophomore year in high school when I got my first sack," Johnson remembered fondly. "I broke through the line and ran the quarterback down. That was my first big true rush as a football player, making that big play as a sophomore starter on the varsity team and having a couple thousand people cheering for me."
Johnson comes from an extremely athletic family. His older brother, Ahmani, played collegiate football at Idaho and Oregon State before spending the 1996 preseason as a linebacker with the Chicago Bears. He later played a couple of seasons in the Canadian Football League. His younger brother, Teyo, begins his athletic career at Stanford this season and is expected to be a two-sport standout in football and men's basketball.
"I developed my competitiveness from my brothers," said Johnson with strong family pride. "Everything was a competition."
Johnson remembered a time when he was 10 years old and challenged Ahmani, then 15, to a race. Ahmani dusted his younger brother, finishing the last half of the race by running backwards and taunting Riall.
"It devastated me," Riall said only half jokingly. "Actually, it made me want to play harder. My older brother is very important in my life. He paved the way for both myself and Teyo."
Johnson hopes he can continue to help pave the way for his younger brother on The Farm and have a little fun in the process.
"We inspire and compete with each other," said Johnson about his younger brother. "I try to beat him, but I want him to beat me. No matter who beats each other, I'm both disappointed and happy."
"This is my best time ever at Stanford," continued Johnson about playing on the same team with his younger sibling. "I wanted my brother to come here, but it was his decision. I think being at Stanford makes you grow up. They don't necessarily pamper their athletes. They require us to do a lot of things on our own. I know that I am better person because I came to Stanford, and I have grown up here. I can safely say that I'm a man now."
Johnson, who grew up in the Seattle suburb of Lynnwood, Washington, expects many family members and friends to make the five-hour drive across the state to Pullman for Stanford's 2000 season opener versus Washington State this Saturday. Johnson has played once before in Pullman but appeared in just five plays as a backup in a 38-28 Stanford loss at Washington State in 1997. After recording a career-high five sacks in a 54-17 home win over the Cougars last season, Johnson hopes to make a much bigger impact this Saturday night in his final collegiate game in Pullman.
He also hopes that his impact will someday be felt in the NFL.
"It's been my dream ever since I was a little kid that I wanted to play in the NFL and it is still my dream," said a smiling Johnson. "I don't want to just make it, but I want to make a difference in the NFL. I don't want to do it just to make money, but I want to do it to have fun making a living. Football is hard but fun. Big rewards take big sacrifices and this is worth it."
by Kyle McRae