Former Florida player Chris Johnson died Friday night in Pennsylvania of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the Associated Press reports. He was 22.
Johnson — nicknamed "Juice" during his high school days at Ocala's Trinity Catholic thanks to a running style that recalled O.J. Simpson's — was a running back, defensive back, and linebacker for Florida in 2011 and 2012. He rarely saw the field apart from special teams, and transferred from Florida to Duquesne in early 2013.
Johnson was perhaps best-known as a Gator for throwing a punch during an altercation immediately following the kickoff beginning the second half of the 2013 Sugar Bowl, which drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and an ejection from the game. After the game, Johnson would say he felt like he cost the Gators the Sugar Bowl. (He didn't, of course, but that detail stuck with me.)
But Johnson was also a special teams stalwart under Will Muschamp, recording 19 tackles in his two seasons with Florida, and recovering a fumble against South Carolina in 2012. And his joie de vivre was something to see.
When Florida beat LSU in 2012, there Johnson was, bounding about the locker room. When Florida beat Jacksonville State in its home finale of 2013, there Johnson was, in the picture at the top of this post, cheesing hard.
He was never a star for Florida, nor was he the star at Duquesne, where he had 55 tackles and one interception while making 10 starts this year. But Johnson shined a little light into others' days throughout his, as the outpouring of grief after news of his passing hit Twitter made clear.
Never thought I would be saying goodbye to one of my best friends since freshman year Too many great times with you man! #iMissYouJuice— Kytra Hunter (@KytraHunter) March 1, 2015
This is unbelievable! Daily texts, late night talks, snack stash, car rides, lunch dates, movie bonding, so much more I could name;; it all happened to fast! I'm going to miss you man. Lives are gone way to soon, especially from those who brighten EVERYONES smile no matter what they may be going through. You may never know how someone is feeling inside, but what I do know is God has gained a hardworking angel above This still doesn't seem true #JuiceItUpInHeaven #FriendsForever
R.I.P. Ju man— Jelani Jenkins (@jelanijenkins3) March 1, 2015
Can't even sleep, still in shock— Jelani Jenkins (@jelanijenkins3) March 1, 2015
Rip juice smh sad man— Jaylen Watkins (@jwat14) March 1, 2015
Saddened to hear of the passing of former Florida player Chris "Juice" Johnson. One of the nicest recruits I've ever covered.— Derek Tyson (@DerekTysonESPN) March 1, 2015
So sad to hear about Juice Johnson. He always made me laugh on campus. I'll never forget him serenading me with obscure Taylor Swift songs.— Kelsey Bryant (@kelseyabryant) March 1, 2015
Saddened to hear the news about Juice Johnson passing away. He was one of the first people I met at UF. Great player but a better person!— Colin Thompson (@ColinThompsonTU) March 1, 2015
Breaks my heart to hear about Juice. You truly never know what people are going through! Always be kind; life is invaluable.— gabi wiegand (@GabiWiegand) March 1, 2015
Chris "Juice" Johnson's ex-Trinity teammate Rob Henry: His smile and the energy he attacked life with was unmatched. pic.twitter.com/8ur63RoYHx— Ted Beck (@ted_beck) March 1, 2015
I swear Juice was one of the happiest players I knew...was always full of energy and getting everyone hype smh— Hygens Succes (@Da_MegaZoe) March 1, 2015
I remember when the coaches moved Juice from DB to LB...our meeting room was always filled with laughter and good times— Hygens Succes (@Da_MegaZoe) March 1, 2015
No matter how mad Durkin wanted to get at the LBs, Juice would always do or say something to make everyone just stop and laugh #RIPJuice— Hygens Succes (@Da_MegaZoe) March 1, 2015
When an athlete passes before the end of the natural life we all expect the young and vital to lead, I always think of A.E. Housman's elegiac "To an Athlete Dying Young," one of the more poignant things ever written in English. Five Florida Gators football players — Johnson, John Curtis, Lamar Abel, Avery Atkins, and Eraste Autin — have had their lives cut short in before the age of 25 this century, and the profound sadness that has accompanied each of their deaths puts Housman's words about someone "from fields where glory does not stay" becoming "townsman of a stiller town" in my mind.
And three of those deaths have been suicides, tragically. Please, please, remember this: Help is always available — for you, your friend, your loved one, and anyone who might need it — at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-(800)-273-8255 (remember it as 1-800-273-TALK), the Alachua County Crisis Center at 352-264-6789, and the University of Florida Counseling and Wellness Center at 352-392-1575.
I, too, have thought of suicide in my life. I've been depressed more than once, sought counseling more than once. I've been able to avail myself of resources — and the strength of friends and family — and make it through. I want you to do the same, too.
Rest in peace, Juice. Thank you for your smiles.