When former Shippensburg University standout Ron Johnson stepped to the podium as the keynote speaker at Monday's Quarterback Club of York scholarship and awards banquet, he did so with the hope of providing some good advice.
Life, you see, wasn't all smooth sailing, even for an athlete of Johnson's caliber.
Sure there were a bevy of impressive stats that the former York Catholic great put up on the gridiron, the basketball court and the track during his high school years.
All of that, however, meant little when he finally came to the realization that life is more than just stats and honors.
"I was a knucklehead," Johnson said. "I could do anything at York Catholic. I could run down the field, jump out of the gym and on the track. But guess what. All of those awards I got and all of those achievements didn't mean anything because that didn't match up in the classroom. I didn't give the same energy and the same determination in the classroom."
It was those poor grades and SAT scores, and not his athletic abilities, that cost Johnson something he wanted most -- a chance to play NCAA Division I college football. Johnson recalled getting tons of letters from Division I schools, which filled up a shoebox in his parents' basement.
Eventually those letters stopped.
"I got bad grades and didn't hand in my homework," he said. "Why? Because I was too worried about Friday night. I was worried about the party on Saturday. I was worried about the things that weren't as important. My focus was flip-flopped. I should have been focusing on my education."
Fortunately for Johnson, he found an opportunity at Shippensburg that eventually was the springboard to his success. He turned his life around and made the most of every chance he had.
Still, it wasn't easy. Hoping to get drafted in the 2003 NFL Draft, Johnson waited patiently by his phone. Unfortunately, the only call he received was from a buddy asking if he was OK.
Johnson recalled getting upset when his phone didn't ring after the final player in the draft was selected. But before he could do anything about it, the phone rang and on the other end was a scout from the Philadelphia Eagles offering a contract to the newly undrafted free agent.
"I got upset for a second," Johnson said. "Two minutes later (the scout) was on the phone and asked if I still wanted to play for the Eagles. I nearly dropped the phone. I had tears in my eyes. It was tears of joy. I just remember my mom and dad just jumping up and down being so happy and so proud of me."
When Johnson's playing days ended prematurely with a back injury during the final preseason game as a second-year pro, Johnson moved on with his life. Now Johnson leads a football youth camp called Ron's Rising Stars, where the most important thing he hopes to instill isn't just fundamentals and skills, but also a forum for players to learn from other coaches and athletes.
Johnson is also a new board member on the Big Brothers, Big Sisters of York and Adams Counties in addition to speaking to various youth organizations about the importance of taking control of their lives.
"You decide your future," Johnson said.
Recipients honored: While Johnson was the main speaker, the banquet was held in honor of the seven recipients of the QB Club of York awards and scholarships.
Four York-Adams League Players of the Year were honored in football: Central York's Marquis Fells (Division I); West York's Zack Smith and Northeastern's Daniel Adams (Division II); and Eastern York's Alex Cooley (Division III).
Two female student-athletes -- Eastern York's Cassidy Layman (Sandy Kranich Memorial Scholarship) and York Tech's Danielle Aikins (Thomas V. Chatman Jr. Memorial Scholarship) -- were also awarded $1,000 scholarships.
The night's biggest honor was for the Charles Larson Memorial Scholarship winner, West York's Brandon Kinneman, who will receive $1,000 a year for each of his four years in college.
West York football coach Ron Miller didn't have to think long or hard about who he wanted to submit for consideration.
"When Mr. (Roy) Robbins sent the email asking for nominations, I immediately knew that I would nominate Brandon Kinneman," Miller said. "I have coached many special people both at the college level as well as my seven years at West York. But I can't think of anyone that has impacted me as much as Brandon Kinneman."
Kinneman, the team's quarterback, led the Bulldogs on a highly successful campaign this past season. He completed 96-of-183 passes (52.5 percent) with 19 touchdowns and five interceptions in leading West York to a 13-1 season that included a York-Adams League Division II title.
Miller, however, was most struck by an exchange he had with his quarterback over the summer. In preparing for the upcoming season, Miller texted Kinneman a question of what he wanted most.
"All I want to do is be a good leader," Miller recalled him texting back.
Miller did some research and found a book -- Lead for God's Sake -- and gave it to his quarterback to read. Little did he know just how profound an impact it would have on Kinneman as he prepared to take over the starting role in his senior season.
"I read it in about a week," Kinneman said. "It was the best book that I've ever read. Just life lessons. But probably the biggest thing I took out of it for the football season was all about the relationships that you build with the people around you. People will eventually forget about these football awards and all of this stuff, but what the relationships and the love you build for the people around you in life is really what lasts."
-- Reach Ryan Vander sloot at sports@yorkdis patch.com.