Big Mike Johnson on Football, Building Wealth, and His Unconventional Journey to Success

By Lynn Pearcey

Every athlete hears the voice at some point in their career. When it speaks, it does so with unmistakable clarity, arising from a place of comfort that says it’s been there all along, just waiting for the right time to talk, hoping for a listen. It can be patient and gentle, laced with empathy, but also ruthlessly direct with a chillingly decisive cadence. Sometimes it’s a whisper, other times a shout, then, other times; it’s a painful roar for all the world to hear. But no matter how it comes, every athlete, including the great ones, hears the voice and, at some point, has to listen.

The great ones can hold it off and keep it at bay because they walk in a space best described as sacred. Their gifts are such that they can deafen the calls and deafen us all to the fact that their powers, exceeding though they may be, come with an expiration date. Silencing and ignoring the voice is fleeting, a form of fool’s gold, because every athlete, even the great ones, must, at some point, listen. 

Big Mike Johnson has looked into the eyes of athletes who’ve heard the voice. He’s seen bodies that once evoked wonder, reduced to a shell of their former selves, refusing to listen, choosing instead to chase one last taste of glory.   

He’s a boy from Chicago who moved to the football-crazed state of Texas to be molded into manhood by the loving touch of his father. Polished, articulate, and highly successful, he’s an emerging figure on the thriving North Texas Black business scene. You know he’s there when he enters a room, and it has nothing to do with his size; some are just like that. His story needs to be told, heard and it’s well worth the listen.

But before we go any further, there’s something I think you should know. Big Mike Johnson –was a great one. But instead of waiting to hear from, and eventually being forced to listen to the voice that always speaks, he did one of the most powerful things an athlete can do. 

He spoke first.

The Journey Begins 

Each year, thousands of gridiron warriors arrive on campuses confident, sure, with the world sitting in the palms of their hands, thinking of themselves as the next big thing. They think, correction, they know they’ve got what it takes, and it’s easy to see why. Their entire orbit has confirmed this belief for as long as they can remember, and their Friday night foes had no choice but to do the same. 

Johnson knows this all too well. Coming out of Katy, Texas, he was rated as one of the finest gridiron warriors the nation had to offer. As such, blueblood programs from both coasts and all points in between came petitioning for the services of the man-child with can’t-miss written all over him. When Signing Day arrived, the masses figured he’d hitch his formidable talents on with a title contender. But on the big day, when the pen left the paper, Big Mike Johnson was a Baylor Bear.

“In Baylor, I saw the chance to build something,” said Johnson. And build something he did. During his stay in Waco, he was voted All Big XII Conference twice while anchoring the Bears offensive line on his way to becoming a four-year starter. But aside from football, there was something else at play. 

Father Knows Best

“During recruiting while I was looking at depth charts, my father was looking at alumni. He’s a big proponent of building relationships and the fact that the Baylor alumni base is annually recognized as one of the best in the nation wasn’t lost on him. So, I left home with clear marching orders from my father: do your best on the field but prepare yourself for success off the field.” 

Johnson was a proven commodity by the time his career at Baylor ended. He had size, character, and the kind of leadership qualities that galvanized locker rooms. At the NFL Combine, Johnson tested well and there was every indication a spot on a professional roster was in his near future. But what teammates and peers didn’t know was that while they were talking the lingo that comes from dreams of playing on the next level, Big Mike Johnson, while he listened, had long since been speaking a different language.

The Numbers Game

It’s only a matter of time before I can cash in on my gift, is the prevailing thought of most college football players. The payday clock begins ticking the moment they arrive, but sadly, time and their dreams of glory run out in too many cases. Research shows that of those thousands who come in, only 1.6% ever play professionally. That means 98.4% must find another dream to chase. What makes Johnson so unique is that he was a no-brainer for a residence in the 1.6%, but instead of moving in, he crossed the street and began building a life on land occupied by the 98.4%.

“I had a lot of plays left in me. I was fortunate because I never suffered any catastrophic injuries during my career, and I grew as a player with each passing year. But that time in Waco opened my mind to the possibilities of life beyond the playing field. As time went by, I realized how much of my life revolved around playing football, and at the same time, I realized there was so much more to my life than just playing football.” So, with that, Johnson was done playing one game and began charging full speed ahead into another, the game of life, armed with a playbook filled with lessons learned – on the field. 

Act II

Johnson moved on to Corporate America, and it didn’t take long for the suits to recognize the gift that had landed in the laps. His people and communication skills were nothing less than exceptional, and he quickly rose through the ranks, assuming high-profile leadership positions at Countrywide Home Loans and, later, Wells Fargo. From there, Johnson, called an audible.

“I loved doing mortgages, and I’m eternally grateful for my time in that industry. But I got to a place in my career where it was about more than reaching financial goals. Yes, money matters, but I needed more. I wanted to make a difference, and becoming a State Farm Insurance franchisee offered the perfect opportunity.” 

Building Wealth

Insurance is the piece of the wealth-building puzzle that is often overlooked, especially in Black households. “There was a time in our communities where just by the stroke of a pen, we could transfer wealth and position families for generational success simply by purchasing a life insurance policy. Now, we view insurance as if it’s an option or some type of scam when what it really represents is sound fiscal planning and prioritizing. That’s the message I work tirelessly to impart to my customers, but especially customers who look like me because we’re the ones who suffer the most when a life tragedy occurs.”

His message of wealth building is one he also regularly shares with athletes, and it’s one he wished more would embrace. “These kids have no idea the opportunities they have at their disposal when they hit those campuses. Their stature gives them access to people, places, and resources other students can only dream about, but most of them make a fatal mistake: their vision stops at the field, the court, or the track. They don’t see the big picture, and it’s becoming increasingly hard to do it in this age of NIL, with cash coming at them from every direction. My message to these kids is to work just as hard off the playing field as you do on it because no matter who you are, your body only holds so many plays. Sure, chase your dreams of playing on the next level; you’ve earned that right. Just don’t become so blindsided by the dream and the short-term investment that school is making in you that you miss out on making a long-term investment in yourself.”

His Voice 

In 1915 the great American poet Robert Frost penned, The Road Not Taken. The poem centers on a man who comes to a place in the road where it forks, and one becomes two. Both appear enticing, with one less worn than the other, a clear sign that most chose the other. The subject ponders both, with the final choice being the road ‘less traveled by.’ The poem ends by paying homage to his decision in the last line, which says, “And that has made all the difference.”

Big Mike Johnson is a man who spoke first instead of waiting to hear or being forced to listen to the voice. He’s a man who once turned down offers from blueblood programs, LSU, Texas, or A&M, and many others to attend Baylor. When his spot in the 1.6% was assured, this great one decided 98.4% was best for him. And just as his career began flourishing in one field, he chose another, allowing him to touch, mentor, and change more lives. 

Big Mike Johnson is a man who has repeatedly chosen the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.