Editor's note: NFL.com is following five players who enter their respective training camps hoping to be one of their team's 53. Here are their stories as they strive to hold on to their NFL dreams.
WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. -- Ian Johnson is a natural in front of the camera. He's not Hollywood polished -- his innate humility might never allow him to come off so unauthentic -- but he has had so much practice that he's more than comfortable.
Johnson is a celebrity, of sorts, known by football fans, People magazine readers and romantics alike. His dazzling two-point conversion that gave Boise State a stunning victory over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl engraved him in college football lore. His televised, down-on-his knee, marriage proposal to cheerleader/girlfriend Chrissy Popadics shortly after the captivating win made him an international symbol of chivalry.
Unfortunately for Johnson, that's where things crested -- at least when it comes to football.
His playing time and productivity waned over his final two seasons at Boise State. A player seemingly destined for on-field stardom ended up having his 15 minutes of fame expire just in time for him to be snubbed on NFL draft day in April.
This wasn't how the script was supposed to be written.
Making it to the NFL was the next chapter of this storybook tale. It was such a focal point that his wife, of now two years, dropped out of school shortly after the Harlequin moment at the Fiesta Bowl and worked jobs as a cheerleading coach, personal trainer and with a property firm to help support the household while Johnson groomed himself for the pros and earned his degree in business management.
She still has a year to go to complete her education.
The book on Johnson's football career, though, isn't quite closed.
Johnson signed with the Minnesota Vikings as a free agent, which he called a perfect situation. Trying to earn a roster spot behind Adrian Petersonand Chester Taylor might not be what some people call a perfect situation, but Johnson and his wife are dreamers who believe he has been delivered to the Vikings to make good on a career that seemingly was a lock not so long ago.
"I'm going to make myself a steal for Minnesota," Johnson said. "I believe I was draftable. They're getting a guy who wants to be here, who is going to work his tail off and who they didn't have to pay a bunch of money for. I'm going to make myself worth something."
There isn't one semblance of desperation by Johnson or his wife. In fact, their approach is more like an adventure in Wonderland. They're taking a full-fledged, head-first dive, trusting they will land on their feet because of Johnson's determination to succeed and his wife's support of his mission.
"We get to enjoy the special part, the exciting part of this because we don't know what's going on, what's going to happen," Johnson said.
Added Chrissy: "We live out of a suitcase."
Finished Ian: "We really do. It's an experience that we're going to get to share with our kids. It's fun for us, and we're enjoying it so far."
Punctuated Chrissy: "We really are."
The fun is tempered with the reality that Johnson leaves for training camp on the day of their second wedding anniversary. For a gift, he made -- yes, made -- Chrissy a Vikings blanket and a pillow case that she can carry with her while she bunks with friends and family while hoping Johnson lands them a home, at least for a season, in the Twin Cities.
Johnson trained relentlessly this offseason to make sure he enters training camp as prepared as possible. He bulked up to 215 pounds, nearly 20 more than his collegiate playing weight, to increase his appeal and diminish concerns about his durability. He has spent the past few weeks trying to get down to 205, though, because Minnesota's coaches want him to be the quick, shifty back that he was in college.
Johnson piqued his coaches' interest at minicamps and organized team activities and said he has immersed himself in the playbook so that when he returns for training camp, he'll be more up to speed with the offense. Johnson said he's not delusional enough to think he'll take snaps away from Peterson and Taylor -- although he plans to be ready, just in case.
"I don't expect myself to go into the league and be the No. 1 back in the NFL," Johnson said. "You have to learn from somebody. If you go to a team that's struggling, it's hard to learn, let alone keep your job. I'm going to a team that's stable. I get to learn from the best running back in the league (Peterson). Chester Taylor is a guy that does everything. Those are the guys you want to sit there and learn from. In the future, I want to find a way to complement those guys."
The Vikings are taking just five tailbacks to training camp, based on their existing roster. Second-year pro Albert Young, who was on the practice squad last season, and rookie Khalil Bess provide Johnson's competition for the No. 3 spot.
One of those players could be retained, at least on the practice squad. There are no guarantees that Peterson or Taylor won't be hurt, and insurance is a must. A lot of teams keep at least three tailbacks on the active roster and another on the practice squad.
Johnson's tough, shifty running style could provide a completely different type of player out of the backfield, which could prompt Minnesota to adjust its scheme to diversify its attack. When Johnson first went to Boise State, the program was known for its passing game. Two years after his arrival, Johnson was churning out more than 1,700 yards on the ground, so making people change their thinking isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Despite his potential to spice up the Vikings' running game, Johnson's ticket to the NFL will come on special teams. He said he worked in just about every phase of the kicking game during minicamps and OTAs and is more than eager to add tackles to a resume that consists of more than 4,000 collegiate rushing yards and 58 touchdowns.
"I got an itch to play special teams. I love it," Johnson said. "I'm a football player. I love to hit. I like to block. I like to manhandle people and get in their chests and hold them down on punt returns. That's what I think I bring to this team. (First-round draft pick) Percy Harvin needs to get the ball (on returns) and not have a man in his face. That means someone has to lock down the man on line. That someone is going to be me."
The story is still being written, with the drama, disappointments, fame and unknown future all playing parts in the preface, to which Johnson said could be compelling theatre. To make things play out the way Johnson and his wife envision, every sacrifice and effort will be made, and nothing will be left to question. There will be no reason for things not to work out, Johnson said.
Somehow, some way, things have to.