Texas wide receiver Richard Johnson hunkered down in Turkey during COVID-19 pandemic

When Richard Johnson arrived in Istanbul, Turkey to play for the Yeditepe (University) Eagles football team in late January from Houston, Texas he was excited.

Coming from East Texas Baptist University, a Div. III school in the small town of Marshall, Texas (population 25,000), Johnson was embarking on the adventure of a lifetime.

“Just coming to Turkey was an amazing experience although I have to admit, the driving rules seemed different than back home. In other words, there didn’t seem to be any.”

There was another factor that added to his excitement. He had actually thought his football career was over when he did not get an NFL tryout. It was a call months after the draft from Eagles head coach Kasey Crosby that changed his life.

“Coming out of college I had a lot of NFL scouts come to my school just to see me practice so I thought I was in for sure. Long story short my last time getting a call was the day before the draft and then coach Kasey called in November. He had found me on europlayers.com about a week after I decided I didn’t care to play football anymore. I was incredibly happy.”

So he found himself back in football in another part of the world entirely. But his love for the game overcame any adjustment issues. He adapted well and fit in with his new team and the other imports according to Crosby who had sensed he was special.

“I would say he’s a cerebral guy that enjoys life, he finds contentment in whatever it is he’s doing. He’s a guy with big dreams, incredible athletic talent and is extremely productive on the field. He’s been an absolute pleasure to coach, very personable off the field. He had a unique drive that was special about him.”

Once he had settled in and started practicing with his teammates, he began to feel more comfortable. The team manhandled their first opponent on the last day of February.

Johnson was feeling pretty good.

And then the coronavirus brought the season to a sudden stop.

“I really felt good about the team and after that first game I thought we had a chance to win the whole thing. But with this pandemic, everyone else is in the same situation so we can just wait it out.”

Since then, like the rest of the world, he has been in a state of limbo, not knowing what was going to happen. In fact, according to Johnson, up until just a couple of weeks ago, they were convinced that they would be able to play a season. He and the other imports including Michael James, Strahinja Stepovic and Brandon Gwinner have been staying on the Yeditepe University campus on the outskirts of Istanbul throughout the pandemic.

“It’s been good although it has felt like a really nice prison. I have my teammates, the other imports who also stay here and we are free to wander around the campus. We have a basketball court and video games and there’s a big hill to walk or run so I have been doing what I can to stay in shape.”

He could have gone home but decided to stay. Naturally, his family, and in particular his mother would rather have seen him come home but he has resisted. He has a team and teammates to consider.

“My mom wants me to come home but I told her that I wanted to stick it out. Even though I can’t get out and experience a city like Istanbul, I feel like I have things to accomplish here.”

So, like the rest of the football world, he continues to be patient, working out, hanging out with teammates, hoping to get back on the field soon for serious practice. The difference for him, compared to his football playing friends in Texas is that he is 6,400 miles from home and waiting for a season to restart.






Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.