By Tim Graham
SAN FRANCISCO -- Buffalo Bills receiver Stevie Johnson has been looking forward to this afternoon's game practically since he entered the NFL in 2008.
Johnson has returned to Hunters Point, one of the most vicious neighborhoods in America and the location of Candlestick Park, to face the San Francisco 49ers. It will be Johnson's first game against the team he grew up rooting for.
For Sunday's edition of The Buffalo News, I took a lengthy look at Johnson's upbringing in San Francisco, but couldn't possibly fit all of the information I gathered into the feature. Here is an outtake.
When Johnson's stepfather became an unexpected Bay Area rap star, the family moved to Fairfield, Calif., about 35 miles away. Johnson attended Rodriguez High, a newly built school that offered only junior varsity football Johnson's junior year.
The first time Rodriguez receivers coach saw Johnson's obvious talents, there was no question Johnson would need to be switched to running back.
"You could just tell he was such a natural athlete," said Jason Agan, who wore his Johnson jersey to Candlestick Park. "He was the fastest kid on the team and one of the tallest.
"But there was no quarterback on the team. I knew nobody could get the ball to him. The easiest way to get the ball in your best player's hands is to just hand it to him."
Agan said two things stood out in his memory: Johnson's coachability and a jaw-dropping play to beat Benicia High.
"He was awesome to coach because you would tell him something once, and he would do it," Agan said. "It was 'OK, Coach.' Boom. Done. You didn't have to remind him or coach him up again. It stuck."
On the last play of a tie game against Benicia, Johnson pulled off a miracle. He had been switched to quarterback for his senior year, and with the game on the line, the coaches asked Johnson to handle the task himself.
"Maybe five seconds were left," Agan said. "We had the ball on our own 35 or 40. The coach called a quarterback draw. He must've broken tackles or juked almost every single player on the Benicia team and scored a touchdown with no time on the clock.
"He literally threw a couple kids off of him. He would just shake them, go around them and once he got into the open field his speed took over and he outran everybody. They were playing prevent, so they were so spaced out. That made it easier for him to wiggle his way through.
"But the fact he either broke the tackle or ran around basically the whole team -- at least seven or eight guys that had a legitimate shot to tackle him and didn't -- it was amazing to watch."