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Florida offensive tackle Roderick Johnson's Gators career over due to spinal stenosis

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The biggest possible blow to Florida's offensive line comes in the form of terrible news for its best player.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The official word about Florida's Roderick Johnson is as bad as it could be: The talented offensive tackle's Gators career is over after a diagnosis of congenital cervical stenosis.

Florida’s medical staff has diagnosed Johnson, a redshirt sophomore who started three games last season, with congenital cervical stenosis. The condition is a narrowing of the spinal canal enveloping the spinal cord, preventing enough fluid to gather around the spinal cord to properly protect it from injury.

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Johnson did not report or show signs of any previous episodes of the condition prior to suffering a "stinger" on April 3 during a scrimmage. Johnson experienced numbness in his fingers and hands and did not participate in the final week of spring camp or Saturday’s Orange & Blue Debut.

Following an MRI and consultation with outside specialists and team physicians, it was recommended Johnson retire from the sport.

Johnson was a four-star recruit who redshirted for Will Muschamp in 2013, but blossomed as a sophomore in 2014. Though he only started three games behind an experienced tackle rotation, Johnson flashed potential at right tackle, and was likely to be Florida's best offensive lineman in 2015.

Without him, and an injured Trip Thurman, Florida played its spring game Saturday with just six healthy scholarship offensive linemen — and was noticeably weak at right tackle. The Gators will have reinforcements for that offensive line in the form of six freshmen this fall, but Thurman and Johnson were the only two Gators who had been on the field for starts at the collegiate level entering this spring.

However: This news is obviously far more significant, and far worse, for Johnson than for the Gators, as a football career that could have earned him millions as an NFL player is likely over, and his life will be forever changed by the diagnosis. Johnson could, in theory, follow in the footsteps of players like former Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, who was medically disqualified by USC because of spinal stenosis before he was cleared by the Bulldogs. But Jones has since been cleared of spinal stenosis, and every case is different. If he wants to keep playing football, Johnson's status that will truly be up to doctors of other teams to decide. (And Florida making him a student assistant is a strong hint that he won't be pursuing that path.)

I trust Florida's doctors (and the specialists the school enlisted) to make the right recommendation for Johnson. I think they did. And I think Jim McElwain's comments about injury in the context of Johnson from after Saturday's spring game are also heartening, if poignant.

"One thing I'll tell you this about any player: I will never, ever put him out there in harm's way. Life's too short, man. Ain't gonna do it, ain't gonna do it to a young guy."

But Johnson's public comments will break your damn heart:

This is a hard thing. It's the right thing.

But this is a hard thing.