With mental health issues behind him, former Clemson safety hoping for another chance in the NFL
Former Clemson safety Jadar Johnson got his shot in the NFL when he signed with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2017. But just three days into his first training camp, Johnson walked off the job.
After dedicating his life to football and working tirelessly to reach the highest level, Johnson abruptly announced his retirement from the sport on July 30.
Johnson prioritized his mental health, and that prompted his decision to step away from the game he loves.
Eight months later after taking time to address his issues, Johnson arrived at Clemson’s Pro Day on Thursday in a good place mentally, eager to chase his dream of playing in the NFL — again — and show scouts he still has what it takes to make it.
“I just feel like I’m back to a good state mentally where I could get back into football,” Johnson said after his Pro Day workout. “I wanted to emphasize that I’m still the same player. I don’t feel like I’ve dropped off at all. I’ve still been working out, still been watching film, still staying in it mentally and physically.
“But this time around, I feel like I’m more mature and more equipped to handle off-the-field problems that come with it. I feel like my problem was I couldn’t balance what was going on off the field and on the field at the same time. I kind of just held it in. I didn’t talk to anybody, and I just exploded… This time around, I feel like I’m better off mentally and more prepared and more mature for situations like that.”
Initially, Johnson felt he had lost his passion for football. But he quickly realized that wasn’t his problem.
“Football was the only thing in front of me. So, that was kind of what I pointed my finger at,” he said. “Like OK, it’s this. This is what’s stressing me out. That was just my way of putting the blame on something instead of being a man and taking responsibility.”
Once he returned home to Orangeburg, S.C., after his short-lived stint with the Giants, Johnson took a few weeks to focus on improving his mental health.
Johnson didn’t go in-depth with the media about what was bothering him at the time. But back when he was struggling, he opened up with family members and friends, in addition to seeking help from professionals, and talking about his issues helped him tremendously.
Now, he is happier than he has been in quite some time.
“I haven’t been this happy in a long time,” Johnson said. “I was scared to talk to people about it; that was really my problem. I felt like I couldn’t come out and just talk to people about what was going on. For some reason, I felt like it was a soft move, which is totally wrong. I don’t want anybody to think like that… I felt so relieved when I talked about my problems and talked about what was going on in my mind instead of just keeping it in.
“So the first step was really just opening up to people. Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve always been quiet and never really talked about much. Once I realized I can still be a strong man and come talk to people about my problems, it made me feel so much better, like a sigh of relief. (I realized) that I can really talk to people and get over these problems and still go on with life and not put life on pause for problems like this.”
While he was working things out mentally, Johnson was also working out physically.
A few weeks after coming back home, he began training with TNT Sports in Anderson to stay in peak shape. He also worked out in front of some teams during the season to put his name out there again and let them know he was serious about getting back into football.
That all culminated in Thursday’s Pro Day workout in the indoor practice facility, which Johnson thought went well.
“I talked to a few teams in there, and they seemed pretty positive about it now that they have seen my workout,” he said.
Looking back on it, Johnson admits his decision to retire was questionable.
However, he doesn’t regret it one bit.
“It was kind of crazy now that I think about it, but I don’t regret the decision,” he said. “If I wouldn’t have handled it like that, I would have never been to the point that I’m at now. I would have never faced that challenge.”
With his mental health issues behind him, Johnson is hoping for another chance to fulfill his dream of playing in the NFL.
“I feel like sometimes, to know that you really love something, you’ve got to get pulled away from it for a little bit,” Johnson said. “That’s with any aspect of life, and it just happened to be football in mine. I gave it away, and I realized this is really what I want to do. I just missed everything.
“I knew my path back into the NFL would definitely be tough, and it’s not easy. It’s still tough, but I’m ready for it mentally and physically.”