DJ Johnson

Defensive Back, 1998-2002

April 22, 2015

Written by Mitch Smith

D.J. Johnson’s commitment to training and preparation helped lay the groundwork for Iowa football’s success in the early 2000s.

The versatile, hard-hitting cornerback battled injuries, but was a steady presence in the Hawkeyes secondary from 1998-2002. He started 20 games in his collegiate career, playing a key role on the 2002 squad that earned a share of the Big Ten title and an invite to the Orange Bowl.

His 15 pass breakups that season were a Ferentz-era single-season record until B.J. Lowery logged 16 during the 2013 campaign.

Despite the many on-field highlights, Johnson’s fondest memories as a Hawkeye weren’t the interceptions, the deflected passes, or even his 99-yard return on a blocked extra point attempt.

“I think about all the hard work we put in for the games,” Johnson said. “Getting up at 5 a.m. for conditioning, offseason workouts, studying film, and being in the weight room are the things that stick out to me. It was that stuff that propelled us to that next level and allowed us to have success on the field.”

The former Hawkeye continues to hone his craft in the weight room, motivating others to achieve their health and wellness goals. After his stint in professional football was cut short by injuries, he turned his passion for training into a successful career.

Johnson, 34, is the general manager at Life Time Fitness in Warrenville, Illinois. He has spent the last seven years with the company, and previously held positions at XSport Fitness and Don Beebe’s House of Speed.

In his role, he handles a wide range of responsibilities, including reviewing profit and loss statements, maintaining positive customer relationships, conducting meetings, and managing the staff.

Above all else, the former Hawkeye strives to create an unparalleled experience for the gym members. He takes the time to develop relationships, and tries to end every member interaction with a smile and a handshake.

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“This is the perfect position to be in because it doesn’t feel like work,” he said. “It’s a natural fit for me. I really enjoy motivating and helping others.”

A standout prep athlete from Naperville, Illinois, Johnson saw action right away with the Hawkeyes, playing in all 11 games as a freshman and all but one as a sophomore.

An injury in Iowa’s season-opener kept the cornerback sidelined for the remainder of the 2000 season, but he bounced back to play a key role on Iowa’s 2001 and 2002 squads.

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While he may not have garnered as many headlines as fellow Iowa teammates Bob Sanders and Derek Pagel, Johnson’s on-field efforts did not go unnoticed in the locker room.

Johnson took his role on the team very seriously, Pagel said, and no player put in more hours of film study.

“Come Saturday at Kinnick or anywhere on the road, D.J. was as prepared as anyone on that field,” Pagel said. “He is the kind of a guy that no matter what he ends up doing in life, he is going to find a way to succeed.”

Johnson ended his Iowa career with 102 tackles, three interceptions and 25 pass breakups, and was one of 12 players recognized as Co-MVP for the 2002 season.

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After Iowa, he played professionally in the Canadian Football League and eventually earned a free agent contract with the New York Jets. He played in eight games for the Jets in 2005, but battled injuries and was eventually released.

After a stint in the Arena Football League resulted in another injury, Johnson opted to retire from professional football to focus on his new career in the fitness industry.

While the injuries were frustrating, it fueled his enthusiasm for personal training.

Johnson has moved up the ranks quickly during his tenure at Life Time. With careful preparation and continued study, he hopes to become an Area Director in charge of an entire region of fitness facilities, and within the next five years become a vice president at the company.

“This job and this industry has been a lifesaver for me,” he said. “When I was falling out of love with football, the fitness industry was something that quenched my competitive juices. I love to compete, and always had a goal to be the best. The injuries helped put things in perspective and revealed the new career path being laid out for me.”

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