T-Bird Update: Alumnus C.J. Johnson succeeds in D-I football

Nathan Hawkins, Broadcast Manager

When the end of October came in 2014, Bellevue West’s football season ended without  state championship glory. But one T-Bird in particular made sure to leave his mark in Nebraska high school football history.

As he hung up his purple and gold cleats for the final time, he left his legacy behind as he littered his name in the record books: Class A records for receiving yards in a season, most career receptions, most receptions in a season, most touchdowns in a career, and is currently tied for Class A record for most touchdowns in a game. And the most career receiving yards in Nebraska.

2015 Bellevue West grad C.J. Johnson currently plays Division I football at the University of Wyoming. After redshirting his first year, Johnson saw significant playing time in his freshman season and now as a starter in his sophomore year. Currently waiting to play in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Johnson has had a successful season so far, totaling six touchdowns on 27 catches for 468 yards.

Born and raised in Bellevue, C.J. is a rare player from Bellevue to get an opportunity to play Division I football.

C.J. said he feels like he has something to prove, being from Nebraska.

“You just have to show everyone that people from Nebraska, that we can play football.” Johnson said. “Especially from Bellevue West, Huffman has done so well these last couple years. If you look at all of the successful players from West lately, there’s a bunch.”

C.J. is one of the most notable names of Bellevue West football history, but he wasn’t new to the infamy. C.J.’s father, Clester Johnson, can be seen a few rows above C.J. on the Athletic Wall of Champions. Clester was also the best player in the state of Nebraska at one point, winning Gatorade Player of the Year in 1990 as a quarterback for the T-Birds. Clester then went on to be a wingback for the Huskers, contributing on back to back national championship teams for the college.

Clester knows that his lofty football career put pressure on C.J., but said he tried to make sure it didn’t affect him.

“I think there is a certain level of pressure that he put on himself,” Clester said. “But I always told him to be who he is and don’t feel like he has to live up to what I did.”

C.J. isn’t the only one in the family who has the pressure of having a former football star as a father. C.J.’s two younger brothers, Cade plays at South Dakota State, and Keagan, who is a freshman at Bellevue West, are part of the successful athletic family.

Keagan, who C.J. said will be better than him one day, was close with his brothers growing up and is happy to see C.J.’s success.

“I’ve spent my whole life with him,” Keagan said, “So it’s been awesome seeing it all pay off these past few years.”

Keagan has been able to take some of the game skills that he’s observed from his brother.

“He’s helped me a lot because during the games he would stay calm,” Keagan said. “He always kept his cool.”

C.J. has the composure to match his talent, which according to Bellevue West head coach Michael Huffman has seemed effortless for him.

“I always called C.J. ‘silky smooth’ because it didn’t seem like he was running very fast or had subtle moves,” Huffman said. “Nobody ever touched him; they couldn’t tackle him, they couldn’t press him, and he just ran by everybody.”

C.J. is focusing on continuing to improve those already skilled assets. He’s been part of turning around the Wyoming football team, which has jumped from 2-10 in 2015 to 7-5 this season.

“We’re slowly getting better and better and that’s all I want to do,” C.J. said. “Get better this offseason that’s coming up, and just help out the team as much as I can.”

As C.J. finishes  his second year of college football, he further distances himself from the time of his record breaking Bellevue West days. Although his days as a T-Bird were special, he was ready for the next challenge.

“There’s nothing like Friday nights,” C.J. said. “It was so much fun, but I think I achieved all I could. I knew I wouldn’t take anything back and I really think I had a successful four years, and I was able to move on happy with myself.”