UT Knoxville, ’07, ’09
Part of the Tennessee Alumnus’ 100 Distinguished Alumni feature.
While living with 14 people in a two-bedroom house and watching his eight uncles rotate between the house and prison, Inquoris “Inky” Johnson, at 7 years old, dreamed of playing NFL football and changing his family’s life.
“I didn’t want to be a statistic,” he says in an ESPN video on his life. “I wanted to break a generational curse on my family where nobody had been to college.”
When he headed to the University of Tennessee to play defensive back for the football team, he promised his grandmother he’d earn a degree.
At the beginning of his junior year and the start of the 2006 football season, Johnson was poised to become a first-round NFL draft pick. All he had to do was play well through the next 10 games.
On Sept. 9, everything changed.
In a routine tackle of an Air Force Academy player, the breath left Johnson’s body and he blacked out. At the hospital, doctors performed emergency surgery to save his life after discovering his clavian artery (near the collar bone) had ruptured. He awoke to a paralyzed right arm.
“I went to make a tackle, and it changed my life forever,” Johnson says. “I don’t regret it.”
Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2007 and a master’s degree in sport studies in 2009. He worked for the Tennessee Volunteers athletic department before heading JustLead, a youth leadership program in Knoxville. Now, he is a highly successful motivational speaker, sharing his story with groups of all kinds all around the country.
“This is the perfect opportunity to use this to be a blessing to somebody else. It’s not even about me, to be honest,” he says. “It’s about repaying the people who invested in me, who saw something in me when I couldn’t see it in myself.”