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Tampa Bay Bucs Signee Fond of Clearwater Roots

Leonard Johnson, a Clearwater native, was recently signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and insists he hasn't forgotten his humble beginnings.

While the world was spinning for football star Leonard Johnson in May, it wasn't dizzying enough for him to lose sight of his North Greenwood roots.

Johnson, who was Largo High School's starting quarterback for four years and later a star cornerback for Iowa State, was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a free agent in early May. 

"I threw a and I had about . I will throw another one sometime in July," Johnson said to Bucs reporters. "There was a streak of violence in the community, some murders, and we wanted to reach out to the kids in the community, so I reached out to my college teammates and friends I grew up with (to organize the camp).

"The message was mostly for the minorities: that even though there is a lot of stuff you see — violence and drugs, there are guys who came out of here, who are productive and doing great things, not just football."

For Johnson, being selected by the Bucs was almost a fairytale come to life. He idolized the Bucs as a youngster, fondly remembering going to games.

But the story gets better: When he was a high school freshman, 14, already starting as quarterback at Largo, he went to a football camp at Jefferson High School in Tampa hosted by then-Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.

Schiano is now in his first year as the Bucs coach.

At the time, Johnson had his picture taken with Schiano — he still has it. 

"After the camp, coach took pictures with everyone in the camp and I saved it," Johnson remembered. "My mom and I, she went through the pictures [after the Bucs signed him] and said, 'Hey, look what I found, you and your new head coach. How crazy is that?' That is crazy, isn’t it?"

Schiano did not remember posing with Johnson for the picture, but did remember trying to recruit him to Rutgers. Both Johnson and Schiano's paths crossed again last winter when Rutgers played Iowa State in a bowl game. Schiano watched every Iowa State game on tape to prepare for the game and said Johnson "showed up" in each game.

Schiano's second round of recruiting Johnson two weeks ago proved more successful.

Already, Johnson has made coaches take notice. On the first day of rookie mini-camp, drafted players were set aside while undrafted free agents practiced on one field and those trying out for a contract practiced on a third field.

After just a few minutes, Schiano ordered Johnson to practice with the drafted defensive backs, including first-round safety Mark Barron.

A promotion of sorts, almost immediately.

"This is an opportunity," Johnson said. "I am here. I want them to know I am here. Film doesn’t lie. My film speaks volumes. I am a Buc and I am ready to compete. I know the guys they got here are well-respected. The guys they brought in are great players but I’m a great player as well. I’m a top guy. It’s not how you get here; it’s what you do when you are here."

Thus far, Schiano sees nothing but good things from Johnson.

"Leonard is a good football player," Schiano said. "I had a good idea what kind of a player he was. I thought we got a real good opportunity with Leonard. He is home and that is kind of neat for him. He's done a nice job so far."

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