Stafon Johnson, looking a little bigger than he did in his playing days as a standout running back at Dorsey High and USC, still knows how to twirl a football and show off his hand-eye coordination for his teenage pupils hoping to run and score touchdowns the way he used to do.
"It feels great to be back home and to express the knowledge that I have learned and gained throughout my years of playing football," he said.
At 26, Johnson has given up playing after a series of injuries cut short his NFL aspirations. He's attending classes at USC while trying to obtain a master's in business administration, and has joined the Dorsey coaching staff as running backs coach.
"This year I wanted to get back home, go back to my roots," he said. "I wanted to coach high school football. It's a beautiful thing."
Freak injuries have been disrupting the careers of former Dorsey players. A neck injury forced former Dorsey running back Johnathan Franklin to give up his football career after his rookie season with the Green Bay Packers. Denver Broncos defensive back Rahim Moore nearly lost his leg from acute compartment syndrome.
Johnson had his larynx crushed by a 275-pound bar that fell on his neck in a weight-training accident in 2009 at USC, forcing him to undergo multiple surgeries. He came back and signed as a free agent with the Tennessee Titans in 2010, then suffered a serious ankle injury in a preseason game. That pretty much ended his NFL days. In 2012, he settled a lawsuit against USC.
Johnson said he was encouraged to return to school to complete his degree, and now going to graduate school is helping remind others that there's life after football. He has his voice back, and he's trying to be a good role model for Dorsey's players.
Coach Paul Knox, who retired from teaching this year but continues to coach, said he's glad to have Johnson and several other former Dons on his coaching staff. He has been the head coach for 30 seasons.
"It's good that young men who've come through our program and been successful feel they can give back to our program," he said.
Edell Shepherd, who played at San Jose State, is the offensive coordinator. Jovon Hayes, who played at Arizona, and Calvin Carlyle, who played at Oregon State, are assistant coaches.
Johnson, who was an assistant last season at El Camino College, said he's looking forward to the experience of coaching high school players.
"I feel God has a plan for everybody," Johnson said. "My calling might be here at Dorsey High."