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Former Bills WR Stevie Johnson offers guidance to UB receivers

When Stevie Johnson addressed the University at Buffalo football team earlier this season, he drew his inspiration from his principles.

The former Buffalo Bills wide receiver thought about what he valued in life, specifically his hometown of Fairfield, Calif., and the family that raised him in the San Francisco Bay Area. Then, he imparted a few words upon the Bulls on Sept. 20 in the Murchie Family Fieldhouse, a day before UB’s 38-22 win against Temple.

“My message was about taking pride in the university, the city, and their families,” Johnson told The News in a text message. “Where times get tough, revert back to those three things and not be afraid to lean on each other. Also, I let them know there’s many people around the world, like my family in California, that rep Buffalo to the fullest.”

He gave guidance to the Bulls (4-4, 2-2 Mid-American Conference), who play at noon Saturday at Eastern Michigan (4-4, 1-3). But Johnson’s visit to UB in September wasn’t a quick hit or a publicity grab. Johnson has made a point to maintain a relationship with UB, particularly its wide receivers.

“It feels good, because any time an NFL player comes to talk to you, no matter what level you’re in, it builds confidence in you, them telling you that you’ve got a chance to make it,” said UB wide receiver Daniel Lee, who transferred from Cisco (Texas) College prior to this season.

“Whether they’re talking about what they do on the field, off the field, they’re telling it to you, and it builds confidence.”

Johnson played college football at Chabot College in Hayward, Calif., and at the University of Kentucky, then played in the NFL for eight seasons, including six seasons with the Bills. He became the first player in Bills history to have three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons (2010, 2011 and 2012), and his gregarious personality endeared him to Bills fans.

Johnson now lives in California, but he makes a point to return to Buffalo, and to keep a hand in local football here, too.

A quick scroll through his Twitter page highlights several area college and high school football players. He shared video footage of Grand Island wide receiver Anthony Homa:

He highlighted UB running back Kevin Marks:

He also shared video of UB safety Joey Banks to more than 350,000 who follow Johnson on the platform:

Johnson has maintained lines of communication in the last month by way of social media with UB’s wide receivers, including Antonio Nunn and Dominic Johnson.

"I was able to take a lot of things from him, especially because I'm switching over to receiver now," Dominic Johnson said. "Some of the things have been tough, transition-wise, from quarterback to receiver. It's taking everything that he's said in, and taking that to the field."

Nunn said Stevie Johnson is one of a bevy of wide receivers, including Ray-Ray McCloud of the Bills – a friend of Nunn’s – Ventell Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys, Auden Tate of the Cincinnati Bengals and former UB wide receiver Anthony Johnson, who is now with the Los Angeles Chargers’ practice squad, who have offered their tutelage to the Bulls.

The wide receivers are one of the Bulls’ youngest and inexperienced position groups. The numbers from this year’s group aren’t eye-popping.

UB has thrown for only 10 touchdowns, and its pass offense as of Friday is last in the MAC (1,073 yards in eight games, 134.1 yards per game) and 124th of 130 teams nationally. Nunn leads UB’s receivers with 26 catches for 370 yards and four touchdowns. While 14 UB players have caught passes this season, Nunn is only one of four who have at least 100 yards receiving; receiver Carlton Todd (nine catches for 104 yards), running back Jaret Patterson (nine catches for 162 yards) and tight end Zac Lefebvre (12 catches for 123 yards) are the others.

They know they’re learning on the job, and they’re still trying to cultivate chemistry with their quarterbacks, first with Matt Myers and now with Kyle Vantrease, who will start Saturday against Central Michigan. UB coach Lance Leipold announced earlier this week that Myers will no longer play this season due to health issues.

“It’s a process,” Nunn said. “We’re still trying to get that chemistry with the quarterbacks. We’re trying to get the younger guys’ feet wet, too. We stay after practice, too, working with the quarterbacks on (fielding) deep balls, so we’re progressing right now."

UB’s receivers know what they need to improve as they continue the second half of the season, like blocking, which has as much importance in the receiving game as catching passes, and working on releases off the line of scrimmage. Dominic Johnson also is taking the advice Stevie Johnson gave him on tactical parts of transitioning as a wide receiver.

"He told me how to work in specific routes, like a curl, how to stay low and get out of the break," Dominic Johnson said. "Because when you're tall, you have to get low, all the time. He also told me that when you're running a go-route, you have to give a little move instead of just running. Small, little things like that, that can help me out."

One non-football core value that Stevie Johnson emphasized, however, stayed with Nunn. "Be patient in the process of growing, not just as a football player, but as an individual. Your time will come.

“You might hope for big plays, but every little play counts,” he continued. “When your name is called, you’ve got to keep running, to keep things going.”

More of the standards Johnson shared:

  • Be on time.
  • Don’t be afraid to correct your teammates, even if they don’t like the necessary criticism.
  • Stay together, as a position group and as a team, especially in difficult circumstances.
  • Mentor each other.

Much like Johnson has done with UB. Because in life after professional football, Johnson says he has an obligation to mentor, especially in a sport that helped mold him.

“It’s important to me to touch as many lives within this sports world as I can, but what would it mean if I didn’t do it for the community that I once roamed?” Stevie Johnson said. “I feel like with some of the things I’ve done throughout my football career allows me to be beneficial to other athletes coming up in the game.”

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