The Return of the Quarterback; Jason Johnson joins the Franken Knights

Former EuroBowl champion quarterback Jason Johnson is getting back into the huddle in Europe.

Johnson walked off field for the last time, as a player, on July 12, 2009. His team, the Swarco Raiders of Innsbruck, Austria, had just captured the EuroBowl title, topping France’s Flash de la Courneuve 31-19 in Europe’s top American football match.

This week, in the midst of a successful career as a videographer, producer and writer for USA Football, ESPN and the NFL, Johnson finds himself back in Europe, and back on the field.

Earlier this year, Johnson’s cousin Kellen Westering signed on to play receiver with the Franken Knights of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany.

Westering, a  wide receiver from Pacific Lutheran University, joins a Knights clubs that was in Germany’s top tier (GFL1) only a few seasons ago. The Knights dropped first to GFL2, but further issues pushed the club down the country’s third tier, regional ‘Regionalliga’ level.

The Franken Knights will play in Germany’s Regionalliga level in 2017.

Franken Knights Head Coach Jason Olive has high hopes for is club in 2017. The 27-year U.S. Army veteran, who is now living in Stuttgart, was a member of a Knights club that finished 2nd in the GFL2 in 2010.  After that season Olive returned stateside, but is now back in Germany and looking to lead the Knights back to Germany’s top leagues.

“We are really looking forward to this year,” said Olive. “We return a very young team with nine juniors and nine rookies on our roster, but we have a solid core of veterans returning to lead the team. We expect to compete at the top of the Regionalliga this season.”

The club’s tight finances have only permitted them one import, but Olive’s happiness with Westering is obvious.

“We couldn’t be more excited to have Kellen Westering with us this season,” said Olive. “He is an extremely talented, young wide reciever and he came from a great football program at Pacific Lutheran where he was an All-Conference player. His film impressed me, but it was the intangibles that really sold me. In our interview he wore a tie, was very articulate and had the greatest motivation to spread the love of this game to our young players.”

However, the Knights still lacked an experienced leader behind center.

Enter Johnson.

“We never knew he (Westering) had another surprise up his sleeve, that his cousin, Jason Johnson, might have some free time this summer and want to play as well, said Olive. “Getting a veteran like Jason to come in here and lead and mentor our young quarterback and receivers is priceless itself. Our young players won’t realize the tremendous opportunity they had to play with such a great player until they look back 10 years from now and reflect on these moments.”

And the deal is struck. Johnson, a former PAC 10, Canadian Football League (Edmonton Eskimos) quarterback and EuroBowl champ, will come to Rotherburg to play and mentor the club’s future quarterback ,a 17-year-old junior player.

Full circle

Since his days wearing the black and silver in Innsbruck for the Raiders, Johnson has stayed close to his favorite game. He coached a few years. His successful video production career facilitated trips back to Austria for the 2011 IFAF World Championships, and a few years later, to China for the IFAF U19 World Championships in Harbin.

He documented the journey of Jameis Winston to the NFL Draft for ESPN, and just completed a series following Jabrill Peppers at the NFL Combine.

He’s been a go-to resource for USA Football and their ‘Better, Safer Game’ campaign. USA Football called on Johnson again for their ‘Football for Life’ documentary series, which now has millions of views.

The game has always been close for Johnson, whose tried to build a brand around telling authentic stories from the player’s perspective.

This spring and summer, that player perspective will be first-hand once again.

“The game of football has impacted my life in so many positive ways, said Johnson. “If you ask any player, that feeling never leaves you. So for there to be an opportunity for me to play again — with family, with one of my best friends, in one of my favorite cities on the continent — I knew it’s something I didn’t want to pass up.”

Joining Johnson in Rotherburg will be one of the quarterback’s best friends from days he spent with the Cantania Elephants in Italy’s top league, receiver Claudio Mangano.

John McKeon is a former professional and collegiate American Football player and coach now living and working in New York. His goal is to spread news, information, and opinion on the global growth of the sport he loves.