For a moment, the Eagles’ Lane Johnson felt like he was in high school all over again as he pulled a black and red Northeast High School football jersey over his head on the auditorium stage to the cheers of the entire student body. .
Johnson remembers growing up playing high school football at Groveton High School in Groveton, Texas and the passion he saw in the local community for the team. But he also remembers the challenges he faced as a teenager: trying to figure out who his friends were and what he wanted to do with his life, all the while struggling with self-confidence.
As the four-time Pro Bowler spoke to the students, he shared the advice he would like to receive at their age.
“What I regret when I look back is how much time I wasted wondering if I wasn’t enough, wondering all this, wondering all that,” Johnson told the students. “And what you have to realize is that you only have a certain amount of money that you have control over.
“You really don’t have much control over anything else. You can control your attitude, you can control your mindset, you can really control the people you interact with.”
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Johnson spoke from his heart and from his experiences with Northeastern students about his mental health, specifically an anxiety disorder dating back to his freshman year at Kilgore College, where he was a backup junior college quarterback for a season before transferring to Oklahoma moved. The event was organized by Kooth, a state-funded provider of confidential online mental health services for 11- to 18-year-old students.
Northeast won Kooth’s Summer of Wellness competition, which encouraged students to register and participate in the various digital mental health tools and activities. A visit from Johnson, an ambassador from Kooth, was the prize of the competition. By lending his voice to the platform, Johnson aims to destigmatize the topic of mental health among high school students.
“I remember being in their shoes and it was kind of uncertain,” Johnson said. “A few years to really figure out which direction you want to go. For them it was just passing on that message and whatever their mental health needs, they have Kooth here to help and guide them.
Johnson began speaking out publicly about his mental health journey last year. He took a three-game leave of absence from the team during the 2021 season after trying to quit his antidepressant during training camp. He experienced withdrawal symptoms, which prompted him to return to his home in Oklahoma and seek help.
When Johnson returned to Philadelphia, he opened up to the media about his leave of absence. He began giving speaking engagements at depression treatment clinics, using his platform to empower others to seek help in addressing their own problems.
“I feel like people wanted to know more about it and how it affected me and how I came back from it,” Johnson said. “So I just found inspiration from other athletes who are going through something similar whenever they talked about it. And I felt like I resonated with it. So I feel like maybe a lot of local people in Philadelphia can resonate with it.
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Johnson spoke about the athletes he looked up to for their vulnerability, including NBA legends Michael Jordan and LeBron James, as well as boxers Mike Tyson and Tyson Fury. He also discussed some of the physical symptoms he experienced when he was initially diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, including loss of appetite and a feeling of fear and helplessness.
In addition to addressing the students in a 10-minute speech, the students also had the opportunity to ask Johnson questions in a question-and-answer session afterwards. He answered questions about how he deals with anxiety before a big game or an injury, and he also shared his strategies for calming his nerves.
Johnson described his disciplined approach to the work week leading up to game day, which makes him feel confident as soon as he steps onto the field. Before the competition, he likes to use breathing techniques and soak up to his neck in the cold bath to rejuvenate his body and mind. Johnson said he doesn’t like to listen to music before playing because he finds it distracts from his performance.
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After the whole-school session, Johnson also met with the Northeast football team and answered their questions about how he has navigated his career. He took photos with members of the team and then signed autographs.
“I just talked to them today and I felt like it really resonated with them and they took it seriously,” Johnson said. “This allows it to be kind of their own personal journey and they don’t have to feel any pressure from outside sources, and everything is kind of private and confidential. So I just think it’s a good platform for them to tap into.”
Johnson was drafted fourth overall in 2013, is in his 11th year with the Eagles and was a member of the Super Bowl LII-winning team at the end of the 2017 season. During his time with the Eagles, Johnson has become one of the best players in the league, not just at his position. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson has allowed just two sacks this season. He had not allowed a sack in the past two seasons.
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However, while Johnson is passionate about his profession and his teammates, he emphasized the importance of having confidence in his identity outside of work, which led him to use his voice to inspire others.
“I love playing football, I love being with my team, I love competing,” Johnson told the students. “But I’ve learned to separate, you know, what I do is not who I am. So I love what I do. But for me it’s about becoming a better person. So I know my platform, I have the ability to influence a lot of people around me in the community.