Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson has made some big plays during his short career in Buffalo, but nothing may be bigger than what he has done this season for 100 young men at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo.
At the beginning of the season, Johnson began a 12-week "Passport to Manhood" program in conjunction with the Boys & Girls Club. The program was aimed at working with teenage boys, and teaching them life lessons and skills to become a respectable man.
Once every month during the season, Johnson traveled to a different Boys & Girls Club of Buffalo and visited with 25 young men at each site.
Johnson's influence to put a positive youth mentoring program together came from a visit to the Boys & Girls Club in San Francisco he had when he was growing up.
"When I grew up in San Francisco, I went to a Boys & Girls Club and saw Desmond Bishop," said Johnson. "Just him saying two words to me, 'Keep Grinding' gave me a whole another shot of motivation to get to where I wanted to be. Who knows what kind of influence I can have on these guys here in Buffalo, so I just thought it could be pretty good to go and meet with these kids throughout the season."
Johnson's path through the Boys & Girls Club came full cirlce as he discussed his obstacles of everyday life, early fatherhood, as well as keys to a successful future with the young men.
"They are all good kids," said Johnson. "Some of them are troubled, some of them have different types of lifestyles than other kids. The common thing about them is they all look up to somebody. They kind of look at me differently and they all listened, they asked questions and they were into the sessions that we had."
Johnson got a good feeling from the sessions.
"The sessions made me feel like that's all they needed...all they needed was somebody to talk to, somebody to tell them right from wrong," said Johnson. "It's still going to be on them to apply that to their lives, but they just needed some type of guidance. I feel like I provided that with the visits that we had."
One of the boys that Stevie impacted explained how important the Boys & Girls Club and an interest from a professional athlete can be.
"I've been a part of the Boys & Girls Club for eight years," said Lugwan Carter, 16 years old. "It's a home away from home for me. Being here keeps me off the streets and a part of something. My friends used to come here too, but with the pressures of growing up some have stayed and others don't come no more. Having Stevie here was great - he really kept at me about continuing to come here, and stay away from the negative things that can tear me down."
The "Passport to Manhood" program stressed to the boys responsibility, believing in yourself, being a leader, being your own leader and not being led by outside influences.
Johnson said, "I touched on my own childhood and things I went through as a young man, so the boys would know that they're not alone with things they go through."
At the Bills-Dolphins game on December 18, Johnson will host 25 of these same boys – many of them have never been to a football game. The boys were chosen based on how well they did throughout the school year, at home, and their participation with the Boys & Girls Club.
"I didn't go to my first game until I was 17 years old and these kids are younger than I was," said Johnson.
The boys will meet with Stevie Johnson after the game for some chicken wings and refreshments in the Bills Player's Lounge where Johnson has some of his teammates lined up to meet the boys.
"It is wonderful to see an athlete of his stature give back to the community," said Diane Row, Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo chief professional officer. "It is important that the young adults in the City of Buffalo have a positive role model to look up to. We are truly grateful to Stevie Johnson for his valuable time spent with us. Our young men gained respected knowledge in diligence and positivity."