The week of October 8, 2017, is one that Eagle’s receiver, Marcus Johnson, will never forget.
It was the week he went viral for a reason he never expected.
It was a week that nearly never happened.
Like many young men, Marcus Johnson grew up in the church, but gradually drifted away from it. He explained in episode 36 of the Faith on the Field Show with Rob Maaddi;
“when I was younger, my family and I always went to church – every Sunday. We did a little bit of Sunday School; my grandparents have always been strong in their faith; and it’s always been around me. But as I got older and I got to high school – closer to the time that I was getting ready for College – we moved from where we originally were and We hadn’t really found a church… Then, once I got to College, I was on my own. I wasn’t going like I should have. And it wasn’t like we didn’t have outlets. We had FCA at the time at the University of Texas; different churches that people were going to… I just never really took advantage of it for whatever reason… I spent 4 years at Texas, you know, just on an up and down path, you know, my life was all over the place… I guess those 4 years I hadn’t really completely bought into all of it and I hadn’t pushed myself in my faith the way I should have.”
But even as Johnson’s life was going through a time of change and instability, God was supporting him and surrounding him with people to help him through. He says; “I always had people in my corner the whole time.” After college, Johnson went undrafted by the NFL. On May 13, 2016, he signed a rookie contract to the play for the Eagles. That’s when everything in his life began to change.
He tells Maaddi that being a part of the Eagles is
“everything you could ever ask for. Going into the NFL, last year, my rookie year, you always hear people talk about the locker room; how dysfunctional they are; how players are selfish; how they only play for money and this and that. And Immediately, when I got here, I had so many people who were just supportive. [There] really wasn’t anything negative in that locker room. From that point, I knew it was something special here… It’s been encouraging for each and every person and, like I always say, we just hold each other accountable. We’re not afraid to speak up about our faith. We’re not afraid to hold each other accountable, to continue to make sure that we all stay on the right path. And it’s such a blessing to have a group of guys you can come to about anything and just be like, ‘I want to grow in this area; I feel like I need work in this area.’ And, you know, they all have their own wisdom from their growing up and whatever course their life has taken and they can all give you good, honest advice. They’re not going to tell you what you want to hear, they’re going to tell you what you need to hear… Since I’ve gotten to Philly, I’ve grown in my faith so much… If it wasn’t for the guys in this locker room, family, and friends really uplifting me and pushing me forward, there’s no telling where I’m at right now; if I’m moving, stagnant; if I’m growing in my faith; if I’m working in the community.”
This great moment in Marcus Johnson’s career however, ended before it really ever began. On September 13, the Eagles cut Johnson from the team. His faith, however, got him through it. He explains; “It was just me never doubting what God had for me and, before I got cut and everything kind of happened the way it did, You know, I heard something powerful what somebody said, you know, what God has for you, no man can take. And you just have to trust the process. You have to be committed to it. And you have to know it wholeheartedly… When I got cut, I didn’t look at it as anything but a business decision from the Philadelphia Eagles I didn’t take it personal, I just took it as motivation. I went home, I worked out and stayed ready.” It’s a good thing he did. In December, the Eagles brought him back!
As he rejoined the team, he continued to grow in his faith. Through the encouragement of players like Trey Burton, Carson Wentz, Torrey Smith, and others, as well as through local pastors and his friends and family, Johnson grew in his faith. He began feeling called to be baptized. He wanted a local Philadelphia Pastor, Kyle Horner, to baptize him. As the desire to be baptized grew in his heart, the whirlwind week began.
It started on Sunday, October 8. Johnson recorded his first NFL catch in a 34-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals. The celebration would have to be short, as the Eagles would be flying to North Carolina to prepare for a Thursday night primetime showdown against the Panthers, in a battle of 4-1 teams. Pastor Kyle would be travelling from Philadelphia to see the game, and Johnson wanted him to baptize him while they were all there.
Johnson says that “it’s been a true blessing. You know, when something like that happens – not talking about the catch but being baptized, it’s something that you can’t do alone. When you take a step like that, it’s a lot of people behind the scenes and not everybody gets to see and know that helps make something like that possible and, just leading up to it, I had been talking to Pastor Kyle about it for a while, and we were trying to get it all worked out and God had it meant to be right before the game. And Kyle flew out because he was going to watch the game, and he was like ‘Man, we can do it at the hotel if you want to, and I was like, it doesn’t matter where we have it or where we do it, I just want to go ahead and take the next step and be baptized.” On Wednesday, October 11, 2017, Marcus Johnson was baptized into Christ, surrounded by his teammates. The following evening, the Eagles defeated the Panthers, and began to receive a great deal of attention by the national media.
That’s when the unexpected happened. Johnson posted a picture of the baptism on Twitter and on Instagram. The picture went viral. Even secular sports media outlets were covering the story. Johnson’s baptism was featured on Fox News, CBS Sports, and 247 Sports. That was something Johnson never expected when he posted the picture. He tells Maaddi;
“As a football player, you kind of think something I do on the field – or something else might inspire or motivate people, and that’s how it’s been for a lot of my life. I didn’t think that me being baptized would blow up the way it did and it’s just amazing how God is using it… I’m just so thankful that something like a baptism could be so wide reaching. I’ve had so many people reach out to me; from people who are believers who are just happy for me, from people who are like ‘you know, I’m not really a believer but I really like the growth that you’ve made and, you know, it’s inspired me and, you know, it’s really a beautiful thing when something like that happens. It’s truly a blessing… I want to show the world and I’m glad that, like I said, the baptism went viral and a lot of people were able to see it. And, I always pray for things like that – using my platform and influence for the better and for positivity; pointing every bit of success In His name… Just like you’ve seen in the power of this post going viral. You know, anybody can post being baptized and it’s just another picture or another video. But, it shows how powerful our platform is and our influence is… It’s amazing to see Him use me in that way, and I just want to continue to do that.”
Baptism isn’t the end of a Christian walk. It’s the beginning. Johnson’s plan now is to focus on “moving forward and just diving into the Word and learning more and being more committed in the Bible; Being more committed in community; Being more committed, in His Name… I want to continue to uplift of the people around me.”
Update (March 9, 2018): Marcus Johnson experienced the joy of being part of the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl LII winning season. After the season, he was traded, along with a 5th Round Pick, to the Seattle Seahawks for 3-time All Pro Defensive Lineman, Michael Bennett, and a 7th Round Pick.