Nov. 6, 2013
Boca Raton Fla - Very rarely do offensive linemen standout to a crowd. "O" linemen are a group of players who work collectively to accomplish a goal; it is rare for one person to stand out. Mustafa Johnson, the starting center for the FAU football team, stands out. He is a team captain, a team leader, and a 27-year-old senior.
Johnson's path to FAU is different than most student-athletes'. After high school, Johnson began working for a local California supermarket. Then he went to work for Target, operating a forklift in the warehouse.
"I didn't go off to school to play football right out of high school," Mustafa said. "I had to get a job and take care of myself, so I went into the workforce and started making a living on my own."
Johnson worked for four years before deciding to return to school. Unfortunately for Johnson, it is tough to make a team as a small fullback. Fortunately, he grew six inches during the time he was working.
"I was 5'9" or 5'10" when I graduated high school, with size 16 feet," he said. "It was really bad. I was really grateful to get a few inches, really grateful," Johnson added.
Now standing at 6'3", Johnson decided to play football at Riverside Community College. He walked on to the team and earned All-Academic and All-Conference honors as an offensive lineman.
The Owls' coaching staff was new and needed young men who could help change the culture of the FAU football program, in more ways than one.
"We recruited Mustafa because he was a winner," Associate Head Coach Jeff Sims said. "He came to us from a junior college program that won one game his first season, turned it around and won the championship his second season. He had the experience we needed and knew what it took to change a program. He also was a center that could help us move from a quarterback under center in a pro-style offense to a shotgun, which was a major factor."
Johnson says the people at FAU are the reason he decided to leave one "Sunshine State" for another "Sunshine State."
"The biggest thing was the conviction they had when they would talk to me," says Johnson.
"Coach Sims came to recruit me and told me they were looking for a center. He talked to me about the atmosphere and opportunities at FAU and that had me sold."
Now in his senior season at FAU, Johnson is the team's starting center, offensive captain, and oldest player as his teammates and coaches often remind him. In fact, there are just six players in all of the NCAA's FBS that are older than Johnson.
"I get jokes every day. Jaquez [Johnson but not related], the team's starting quarterback, calls me Uncle Moose, so I became Uncle Moose to about 10 or 11 people on this team." Johnson said.
"Coach [Luke] Meadows will make jokes when I am doing drills and say `there goes the old man'" Johnson said. "It's all humor and fun."
Johnson may joke with his teammates, but one thing he is extremely serious about is his goal for the season.
"Oh it's definitely a bowl game" he said. "It has got to be a bowl game. Anything short of that is a disappointment," the California native added.
Johnson also has starting making plans for life after football. He wants to help future generations of young athletes reach their potential.
"I want to coach or be involved in the game of football, in some way," he said. "I can take the knowledge that I've learned at FAU and pass it on to younger players. I've seen a lot of guys that were not prepared for college. They didn't understand what was expected of them in the classroom and on the field. I would love to share my insight and my experience with younger players and help give them a chance to be successful."