Looking to lead by example so that the Panthers are a top team next season, Johnson isn’t going to be resting this off-season. Instead, he’s going to be working harder than ever to ensure his predictions about his team come true. But he won’t be all work and no play—taking time off to show his rides some love, especially his 2012 Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder LP560 and 1969 Chevy Impala convertible. And he loves both equally, explaining how they’re his all-time favorite rides.
“The Lamborghini was my childhood dream car,” he admits. “I knew when I had enough money, I’d get one.” And Johnson didn’t let his large stature stand in his way of getting his dream ride. He had the seats extended in the Lambo to allow him to comfortably take it out for its weekly ride.
Then there’s his custom ’69 Impala, which was sitting in his garage for a full two years before he got around to tweaking it to his specifications with the help of Ultimate Audio in South Carolina. Now it’s dressed exactly how he first imagined it when he purchased it early in his NFL career. And because he’s an old soul at heart, Johnson also has Ultimate Audio fixing up his latest old school, a 1969 Cutlass that will follow his all-black garage theme.
For now, Johnson is content with what sits in his driveway, including his Mercedes-Benz S550. But if he was to get another new ride, he mentions that it would probably be a Rolls-Royce Ghost or Phantom. But at this point in his career, the Pro Bowl player is 100 percent focused on making the Panthers a serious contender!
Coming off the 2012-2013 season, how would you sum it up?
We didn’t do what we wanted to do this year, and it’s really been an up and down season for the Panthers. I’ve always tried to remain a consistent player this past season, but it is what it is. The key to it all is just consistency, which is what will allow you to have a long career in the NFL. But we did finish strong and we’re all looking forward to a much better season next year.
What were your goals coming into this past season, and did you live up to them?
I mostly wanted to get in better shape. I really don’t get too much into goals and stuff like that because it just comes with the territory of being a better player. Being in the best shape possible is what I thought would really help last season. During the off-season, I trained in really hot places like Miami, FL. I wanted to get a good sweat during some really intense training sessions I was putting myself through. I think being in better shape allowed me to finish off the season really strong and it’s something I’m looking to continue going into the new season.
As one of the top players on the team, how much pressure does this put on you each time you play?
There’s pressure, but I say it’s good pressure. You feed off of pressure like that because you want to do so well that it motivates you to be as good as you can and then some. I actually like that kind of pressure. I don’t really let it get to my head much. I go and do what I have to do. If you prepare hard and do what you got to do, you’ll do your job well with or without the pressure.
You and other defensive end Greg Hardy had a great year as one of the NFL’s most productive sack tandem in the league. What’s the chemistry like between you two? Do you guys have a plan of action already detailed out before each game?
I’m more reserved while Greg is more outgoing. But our plan of action isn’t something we really talk about or plan; it’s more on the fly. We practice hard during the week, and we realize that since we do this, come game day we’re prepared to go out on the field and do our job. So we take pride in knowing what we have to do. But we also have a great vibe together that allows us to click so well. We know what we got to do and we just each want to dominate for every game, so we’re always on the same page no matter what.
You’ve become a defense team leader in your tenure with the Panthers. Was this always something you wanted to be?
I’ve never said it myself, but people say I’ve become a Panther’s leader. But it wasn’t something I was after. I think I lead by example and how I play out on the field. It was a role I was reluctant to really step up to at first, but accepted it because I want to do more for my team. I’ve become more helpful, vocal and more of a mentor for the rookies and new players of the team. It was amazing to be named a captain and am still adjusting to my role as a leader for the Panthers.
So what’s your leadership style to help rookies and keep morale up?
Most people relate to me because I’ve been in lots of situations before so they look up to me for advice and veteran knowledge. I used to be that guy who was not applying themselves, but now I’m working hard to really become a top player all the time. And they see that I’ve developed into being a consistent player, while still always looking to better myself and my game. I’m always telling rookies and the other guys to stay focused on their skills because it makes an even better player.
What’s your biggest accomplishment this past season?
Being considered a leader was big for me. I always have high standards and it’s all about winning for me, so every win is an accomplishment. I like winning and until we win big like I want us to, then I’m not going to be satisfied. I’m looking to have my team take it all. But my overall accomplishment is just being able to play and doing something I love. I got this new deal and I’m trying to live up to the hype. I don’t want anyone to look at me and say how my skills don’t reflect the big contract I got. I want to prove that I’m worth every penny and that I’m the best at what I do. I want to build a legacy and will keep grinding to become remembered as a great player.
Do you embrace your nickname “Big Money?”
It’s all good. But I don’t really like it because it just characterizes my contract and not me as a player. I’m not just about the money.
What was your first big purchase after you signed the six-year contract extension?
Honesty I bought my house that I wanted and it’s been the only real big purchase since. I’m also saving a lot and waiting to see how my career pans out.
You’ve been with the Panthers for the past five years. What’s the team atmosphere like?
It’s been a rough ride but a good ride. I’ve seen people come and go, but the team’s vibe has always been positive. We’re still a young team and we’re grinding hard to be No. 1. I think we’ll be one of the top teams this coming season.
After the tough loss to the Buccaneers back in November, you went to ranting on Twitter, which some have criticized to saying it should have been kept in the locker room. Are you always so vocal on social media? Do you care about the backlash?
I don’t care about backlash and I’m going to always say what I want to. I’ve always been like that and I know you can’t always please everybody. Sometimes things need to be said, but I do agree that some stuff needs to be kept in-house. But when the coaches believe in what you say then I feel that I’m doing something right by speaking the truth. But I’m not always on Twitter ranting and raving about stuff, so for me to say something about how my team played one particular game, really means something and needs to be addressed.
Any advice to kids aspiring to make it to the NFL?
You have to be focused and have your mind set from the get go that you want to be in the NFL. Surrounding yourself with positive people who will motivate and help you achieve your goal because it allows you to believe in yourself. If you do both, you’ll end up doing whatever you want to do.
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