MIAMI, Fla. — Deandre Johnson had one question when he regained consciousness at Miami Children’s Hospital, less than 24 hours after being repeatedly stabbed in the chest with a butcher’s knife.
“Dad, will I be able to play football again?”
Andre Johnson couldn’t help but get emotional when telling SEC Country the story of his son’s brush with death at Killian High School on March 31, 2015.
“Deandre is such a blessing, I’ve been in his life every day and he means so much to me,” Andre Johnson said. “Then, to see him in that hospital bed like that … “
Johnson couldn’t finish the sentence, but every parent could understand the implied sentiment.
The bizarre event that unfolded while Deandre Johnson was standing in line for lunch his sophomore year of high school was life-changing for the recent Tennessee football commit.
Vols fans are getting to know Johnson as a 6-foot-3, 240-pound defensive end prospect with an ever-present smile and sense of team and maturity beyond his 17 years.
But Deandre’s first 15 minutes of fame weren’t nearly as welcoming.
Instead of football highlights and headlines in the Miami media, there were reports and pictures of him bleeding profusely, critical seconds ticking by as an ambulance sped to his rescue.
“It was just crazy,” Deandre Johnson said, rubbing his hands together and shaking his head. “I still to this day don’t know why it happened. I’d never even talked to her.”
“Her” was Brihanna Rolle, who on July 28, 2015, pleaded guilty to aggravated battery with a deadly weapon causing great bodily harm, according to a CBSMiami.com story.
The 17-year-old girl was suffering from depression and anxiety, and she had allegedly been bullied and ridiculed leading up to the violent outburst.
Deandre Johnson and Rolle shared a class, but he had not spoken to her before, and he was in the midst of conversation with others when she launched a surprise attack.
“I was talking to some teammates, and I turned around, something just told me to turn around, and it was like, the blade was in to me and out of me,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t blink, I couldn’t even gasp.
“I didn’t feel anything, I just felt my heart beating fast.”
Another student rushed to Johnson’s aid to apply pressure to the wound, likely a life-saving act, as the knife had cut through an artery and punctured a lung.
Johnson passed out before regaining consciousness as the ambulance arrived.
“They had just got there, and it felt like a movie, everybody was running up to me, sticking things into me, I was thinking inside my head, ‘just breathe,’” Johnson said. “They were asking me how old I was, and if could I hear them. My stomach hurt, but other than that, I felt normal.
“My focus was on God; he was telling me to breathe.”
Michelle Williams, Johnson’s mother, firmly believes a higher power was at work.
“They were originally going to take him to a different hospital, but one of the ambulance drivers was one of Deandre’s coaches from when he played peewee football, and he said, ‘He’s a kid, we need to take him to (Miami) Children’s Hospital,’” Williams said. “When he got to the hospital, both the general surgeon and the chest surgeon just happened to be there at the same time.
“I feel like that’s why he’s alive.”
Deandre spent 11 days in the hospital before being released. His weight dropped from 227 to 187 pounds, the extreme nature of the invasive surgery taking a significant toll.
The surgeon, Dr. Redmond Burke, had performed a risky procedure to save Johnson’s life, cutting him from the top of his chest down to his navel in order to clear all the bleeding from the chest cavity.
Burke, with degrees from Stanford and Harvard, has been named one of the world’s most innovative surgeons and once starred in ABC’s pilot television show, The Miracle Workers.
Johnson said he remembered praying that he would be able to play football again as he lay in his hospital bed.
“After seven days, I got to try to walk,” Johnson said. “I knew I had a ways to go. First thing I had to do was get my appetite back, because I had to get my weight back to play football.”
It was only natural Johnson dealt with nightmares in the immediate aftermath, but through it all he maintained his football dreams.
Michelle Williams home-schooled Deandre the rest of the school year, while Andre Johnson set his son up with a personal trainer that summer.
By August, Deandre was cleared to return to the football field and played his junior season at Killian High School.
At that time of the stabbing, his only scholarship offer was from Temple, but Johnson had a new outlook and approach to his future.
A transfer to Miami Southridge High School before his senior season led to more interest from the higher profile schools recruiting him along with a Class 8A state championship on Dec. 10.
“I appreciated life more after what happened to me, and I’ve tried not to hold grudges with any people,” Johnson said. “I’ve come to realize that football is my way of being more, and it’s my way to be me.”
In less than a month, Johnson’s football dream will continue at Tennessee as a mid-term enrollee.