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Living the dream: Gainesville grad Alexander Johnson balances NFL career with apparel business, wide ranging hobbies
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Gainesville High graduate Alexander Johnson wears merchandise from his CB45 collection. — Photo courtesy Alexander Johnson

Alexander Johnson has a very busy schedule. It’s exactly the way he planned it out as a kid. 

He’s an accomplished NFL linebacker for the Denver Broncos. Budding entrepreneur with his own athletic apparel line, CB45. And a dear friend to many who he connects with as much as possible when at home in Gainesville. 

He’s also a doting uncle who has unwavering loyalty to family. Johnson also has a girlfriend, Alyce, who he met during his playing career at the University of Tennessee.

You’re bound to find him building his body for the next step in his flourishing football career. But he has a wide range of interests that include playing basketball, keeping his mind strong and flexibility intact with restorative yoga, and even hiking some of Colorado’s tallest mountains, along the spine of the Rockies, which runs parallel north and south, just west of Denver. 

It’s a lot to juggle, but the life he wanted from a young age.

“Everything is a blessing,” said Johnson, who was recently home in Gainesville. “I stick to my goals and stay prayed up, never waver.”

His rise to prominence in the NFL has been a bit of a whirlwind, but no surprise to anyone who watched him dominating for the Red Elephants from 2007-2010.

After getting special teams work in his first season, Johnson became a starter in Week 5 of 2019 and promptly had an interception in the end zone of Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers. 

Starting the final 12 games this season for the Broncos, he recorded 93 tackles and 1½ sacks. His first season in the middle of Denver’s defense included lots of memorable moments. He played against the Kansas City Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes on a snowy afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium. 

He lined up across from his friend and fellow Gainesville High graduate, Deshaun Watson, the electrifying quarterback of the Houston Texans. 

He tipped a pass on an interception that was returned by one of his teammates for a touchdown.

And, then there’s what most fans recognize Johnson for, his stance after a tackle where he crouches down and with arms raised tight to his chest and hands curled downward to imitate a dinosaur. Dino was a nickname he picked up his freshman year with the Volunteers in 2011, which he’s carried with him to the NFL.

Johnson’s trip home on Jan. 10 was centered around attending funeral services of a friend. But he took the time to share his journey with youth who are currently housed at the Regional Youth Detention Center. 

Johnson wanted to reach some of the young people who are teetering on going down the wrong path in life, but still have ample opportunity to turn it around. 

“Any chance I get, I want to speak to the kids,” Johnson said. “I see a lot of them faced the same environment, same struggles I did growing up in Gainesville.

“They’re still young, so hopefully, I was able to reach them.”

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Denver Broncos linebacker Alexander Johnson (45) tackles Kansas City Chiefs running back Darwin Thompson during the game on Dec. 9, 2019 in Kansas City, Mo. - photo by Associated Press

Johnson wants to play football in the NFL until he’s 40. Yes, 4-0.

However, it’s not his only athletic pursuit. Johnson dabbles in mixed martial arts and wants to fight professionally in the UFC at 42. 

His success in sports has allowed him a platform to market his merchandise. His company, CB45, stands for Chief Beast 45, his nickname and number. The CB also stands for Continue Believing, an overt display of his Christian faith. 

Johnson’s life has faced twists and turns he never would have expected. His career at Tennessee ended abruptly in 2014 when he was investigated and charged with rape, but three years later found not guilty by a jury in Knoxville, Tenn. on July 27, 2018.

This is a chapter of his life he will not discuss. However, he never gave up chasing his dreams during the three years he was away from the game. 

He knew the storm would pass eventually. And, when it did, he would be ready to get back on the field in the best shape of his life. 

The entire time, his girlfriend, Alyce, was right by his side. 

It would have been easy for Johnson to give up on his NFL dreams with so much time away from the game. But, if you know him, he’s not going to give up on his goals. 

In 2015, Johnson attended Denver’s game against Pittsburgh in the AFC divisional round at Mile High Stadium, which is the same year the Broncos won the Super Bowl with Peyton Manning as quarterback. 

He felt the energy of the stadium and was reinvigorated to make it back on the field. What he didn’t know at the time is that it would be the same organization to give him a chance once his court case worked its way through the legal system and he was fully acquitted.

His first NFL season, in 2018, was spent mainly on the practice squad with some work on special teams. 

Then the 2019 season came. And Johnson flourished like everyone who knows him knew he would. 

The former Volunteers star played in plenty of big games with enormous crowds in Neyland Stadium, along with other SEC stadiums that also hold nearly 100,000 fans. 

But, the atmosphere at Mile High, looking up to see all the Broncos fans in their orange and blue gear, is something totally different.

“The first time on the field and sidelines was surreal,” said Johnson. 

The first four weeks of the season, Johnson played in a backup role. But once he got his chance to start against Los Angeles, he never looked back. 

He had eight tackles against the Chargers. The next week, he had nine stops against Tennessee.

Johnson’s season-high 13 tackles came against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 3, then three weeks later he had 12 stops against the Buffalo Bills.

It’s clear that No. 45 has earned his spot on the field for Denver and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. 

By the time the season ended, Johnson was able to take some time to recover from a knee strain, which he said hampered his production down the stretch. 

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Alexander Johnson hikes one of the 14,000-foot tall mountains in Colorado. — Photo courtesy Alexander Johnson

Now, it’s back to work with a relentless schedule of offseason training. 

The lifting, running, bruising practices and hiking adventures: he loves it all. 

“I feel like if you don’t train, you’re selling yourself short,” Johnson said. 

Johnson credits Alyce for helping to run his business venture smoothly. They have a retail presence in a Denver yoga studio, hoping to expand it as time goes on. 

CB45 offers a wide array of merchandise for men and women, including tights, leggings, hoodies, shirts, dry fit tops and hats. 

Despite the somber circumstances, Johnson’s recent trip home was filled with lots of fun and laughter. He caught up with countless friends and supporters while running the basketball court at the Family Life Center, the multi-purpose gymnasium at First Baptist Church.

Many stories about the old days were relived and countless pictures to share were snapped with cell phones. 

Johnson wants to represent Gainesville well with everything he does. 

And there’s a lot of people watching close to see how their friend does in the NFL. 

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