After a standout career at Mingus Union High (Cottonwood, Ariz), Johnson had scholarship offers from powerhouses like Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State, USC and UCLA, but ultimately decided to stay home and play at Arizona State, entering the Pac 10 school in the fall of '99.
His graduating class included several future first-round NFL picks including T.J. Duckett (Falcons), Willie Green (Browns), Phillip Buchanon (Raiders), Kyle Boller (Ravens) and Nnamdi Asomugha (Raiders) and Johnson could have made the list if knee injuries hadn't curtailed his athletic career sooner than later at ASU.
But that wasn't the end of the health problems for Johnson.
In 2000, it was revealed Nick had a very rare form of cancer called "Epithelioid hemangioendothelioma" in his knee.
He had surgery to remove a large tumor and the bone around it, which forced him to receive a prosthetic joint.
About a year ago, sadly, the cancer had spread to the lineman's lungs and Nick had to endure four rounds of chemotherapy.
Initially, doctors were pleased to see that the four visible tumors had shrunk. They scheduled Nick to have the tumors removed at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesotat about three weeks ago.
As Nick's sister, Kristine Carra, says, "Things were looking good for a change."
Unfortunately, when the surgeons went in to work on his left lung, they found fluid surrounding the lung, it was shriveled beyond repair, and the entire chest cavity was full of tiny, new tumors.
Nick was sent home to heal from the partial surgery, and to await another form of chemo. In the meantime, Johnson's family learned of a doctor in Mexico know for working near miracles with other cancer patients.
Nick's father spoke to three people personally who swore that the doctor saved their lives and was their last hope to do so.
Johnson's family believes it could be his final chance as well.
"In our efforts to exhaust all options for Nick at this point," explains his sister, "Nick is due to go to Mexico to see Dr. Salvador Vargas sometime early to middle of next week to discuss the alternative therapies he does for cancer patients.
Nick's other choice at this point is to begin a highly experimental cocktail of chemotherapy. The medicine that Dr. Vargas can offer is non-toxic, and I am unaware of any side effects whereas the chemo is, of course, a very harsh poisonous chemical that will make Nick very ill before any chance of making him better."
Carra says that the cost can run upwards of $25,000 for two weeks of treatments.
"While the initial payment or "deposit" is for $8,400," she stresses, "it is for two weeks and we don't know how long Nick will have to stay, if he chooses to stay. Further, there may be some incidental or unusual expenses that are not included in their usual "all inclusive" rate—special radiological or lab studies, surgical consulting, etc."
In an ironic twist, where Johnson had a full-ride scholarship to pay for his education four years ago, today the 22-year-old must be a full-time student at ASU, taking 12 class hours no matter how sick or worn down he feels, to remain on his mother's insurance.
Because Nick is over 21, "education" is the only way he can benefit from her medical insurance.
As Arizona Republic columnist Paola Boivin well described it: "For all the stories about the athletes who won't go to class, this one delights in the irony that he's an athlete who has to go to class. His life depends on it."
We like to cheer our gladiator heroes and when the game is over walk away or turn off the TV until the next contest. Rarely do we as football fans have the opportunity to show our support to these athletes in a meaningful way away from the field of competition.
This is that one chance to make a contribution and a difference in a young person's life.
Says sister Kris: "If someone wants to help by next Wednesday so Nick can begin his medical care with Salvador Vargas, M.D., they can call Diana Boatman [909-693-5078] "regarding payment for Nick Johnson" and she will call back ASAP to accept a credit card payment ($5,000 total for now)."
Also, any payment no matter how big or small, can be mailed (noting it is for Nick Johnson's account) to:
Betania West Institute
P.O. Box 430430
San Ysidro, CA 92143-0430
Also, you are encouraged to call Ms. (Diana) Boatman to inform her that the contribution is on its way.
There is also an email address available for the fund: firstname.lastname@example.org. All donations are tax deductible.