Stafon JohnsonPhoto Credit: Jason Lewis for SentinelStafon Johnson a Football and a Community Injury
By Evan Barnes
Sentinel Staff Writer
It's the hardest thing for a parent to hear when their child has been seriously hurt. For Stan Johnson and Kim Mallory, they had that feeling on Monday.
Their oldest son, USC senior tailback Stafon Johnson, had suffered a serious weightlifting injury that was among the rarest of accidents. While bench-pressing 275 lbs., the bar slipped from his hand and onto his throat.
"I was on my way to Dorsey and a friend texted me and left me a number. I called her back and she told me that she saw my son get into an ambulance," Stan Johnson said.
He and others would find out that his 21-year-old son suffered a torn larynx, ruptured Adam's apple and vocal cord muscle. The seven-hour surgery at California Hospital Medical Center included underwent reconstructive surgery as well a tracheotomy to help him breathe.
His strong neck muscles, doctors said, helped save his life. At press time, Johnson remains in critical yet stable condition and expected to remain in the hospital for at least two weeks. He is communicating via hand signals and writing.
To many in South Los Angeles, Johnson was more than just a standout athlete. He represents a beacon of hope for the youth who came after him and an example of how to come from the inner city and live your life doing the right thing.
The outpouring of support has been immense as calls came from around the city and across the country as Stan Johnson's cell phone was flooded with well-wishers he didn't even recognize.
It was fitting for someone known for his big heart. As his father ironically put it, "He'd be the one to call people when they're down."
A strong family presence help shaped that big heart. Whenever he scores a touchdown, he points to the sky in memory of his late grandfather and role model Larry Mallory, known as "Big Dad".
"Words cannot explain how he helps me to fight day in and day out," he told the Sentinel two years ago.
Mallory's passing in 2007 may have robbed him of his biggest supporter but his words of encouragement spurred Johnson to stay committed at USC even as he wasn't the featured star many expected out of high school.
His parents, Stan and Kim Mallory, are almost like close friends to him. Stan served as a long-time assistant track coach at Dorsey while his son was there and Kim, a USC graduate, happened to be working at California Hospital when Stafon was brought in.
"I never had any problems with him growing up," Stan Johnson said, "He's such a loveable guy"
He also has a 16-month-old son that he has cherished and given the same affection that he received growing up. That also included a strong upbringing in the church
He's active every Sunday as a youth leader and speaker, having spoken in his church since he was a kid. At USC, Johnson was a spiritual leader on the team, a role he was familiar with having done that in high school.
While at Dorsey, where he once stood on the sidelines as a water boy, the Compton native had one of the most celebrated careers that would rival anyone coming out of the L.A City Section. He graduated in 2005 as a consensus All-American but even then, his status as a role model was evident.
"He had a great personality so whether he played athletics or not, he still would've been a popular person on campus," Dorsey head football coach Paul Knox said, "He was somebody the kids liked and respected and the teachers did too."
As a student, he was awarded a scholarship from Our Author Study Group after being recommended by his elementary school principal Dr. Genevieve Shepherd. Despite not needing the financial benefits of the award, he's come back to serve as a mentor for the next group of kids while attended various luncheons.
He's on track to graduate this spring but whether or not he resumes his football career is still up for debate. He will miss the rest of the season but doctors have said they expect a full recovery, including his speech.
But for the moment, football has taken a backseat to his health and as the hopes of a community rested on him on game days, they now shift that hope for a speedy recovery for Johnson, who now has one more hurdle to add to the many he's overcome.