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If Jake Johnson had his choice, his post-high school football career would have gone something like this:

Full-ride scholarship to Division I school.

Earn starting job.

Help team to bowl game(s).

Earn individual honors.

Get drafted by NFL.

Play for 10-12 years in the NFL or CFL.

Two years ago, Johnson graduated from Longmont High School. As a senior in the fall of 2009, he led the Trojans to the Class 4A state title game. He was the Longmont Times-Call player of the year. He was the Boulder Daily Camera player of the year. He was the Denver Post’s Class 4A all-state quarterback.

Today, Johnson isn’t preparing for his junior year of college. Instead, he’s starting at quarterback and safety for the Prague Lions, a semi-pro team in the Czech Republic where athletes play mostly for room and board and a small salary.

“I would never have dreamed this in a million years that after our state run at Longmont the next place I would be playing was overseas professionally,” Johnson wrote in an e-mail interview. “It is definitely quite the experience and one that I am very blessed to have the opportunity to be doing. God is good; that’s all I can say.”

Johnson never did get a D-I scholarship. He signed with Division-II CSU-Pueblo, but that didn’t work out. He transferred to Adams State before his freshman year began. That didn’t work out either. He had surgery on his left wrist twice and went back home to rehab and work. He wanted to save money, but he also had some debt because of the surgeries.

Shortly after that, he went to a combine for a semi-pro team in Fort Collins, the Northern Colorado Wolfpack. While there, coaches tried to help Johnson get hooked up with Colorado or Colorado State. Both schools said the same thing.

“They wanted to see me play a season with them and then walk on for a year,” Johnson said.

Not having the money to attend CU or CSU, he was discouraged. But one of the Wolfpack coaches had a connection in Europe, and advised Johnson to look into semi-pro ball there.

“(The Wolfpack coaches) both told me I had the tools and athletic ability to make it to the CFL or get a NFL tryout,” Johnson said, “and that if I wanted those opportunities to come up, I needed to turn pro and just ball out over in Europe and turn some heads.”

In April, Johnson arrived in Prague and began wearing the orange and blue of the Lions, who are off to a 3-0 start. If all goes well — meaning he and the Lions get to the championship game — he’ll be in Prague through the end of the July.

While he is turning heads with his play, this certainly wasn’t the route Johnson had in mind when he left Longmont.

“It was definitely a (little) disappointing, I won’t lie,” he said of his college career. “But I just looked at it as another barrier I must get over and attacked it head on. I knew the Lord had his own plan in mind and I just needed to do what I could do and leave the rest of it up to Him.”

It could have been very easy for Johnson to give up on the football dream. Perhaps it would have been best to keep working the 50 hours a week he was working, save up money and finish his degree someday. Yet, with an athletic and talented body and a desire to play football, he couldn’t resist.

“As a little kid you know everyone dreams about getting to that (pro) level and so for me personally I had to keep chasing that dream,” he said. “I was not ready to give up on that yet. As much as (working) was doing me good, I wanted to go back to football and see what I had. I knew I still had something in me. I mean, I’m only 20!”

In just a few short weeks in Prague, Johnson has learned to be a leader. Some of his teammates don’t quite understand the game the way he does, so he’s been a teacher to them. He’s also learning a new language and a new culture. He said he’s enjoyed every bit of the architecture in Prague.

“You definitely would not see a big castle in the middle of Longmont or a big cathedral, that’s for sure,” he said.

Johnson understands there is life after football. College is still in his plans, as he would like to get a degree in business management and own his own restaurant some day.

Whether his future includes professional football, restaurant management or some other twist and turn, he’ll continue to follow the advice tattooed on his left forearm: Persevere.

“Another thing (I have learned in Prague), I would say, is just persevere through everything that comes up in life and stay true to myself,” he said. “That’s all that matters in the long run.”

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