Stevie Johnson made news last year on Twitter for questioning God's intentions when he dropped a potential game-winning pass in overtime.
Johnson was front and center again during Week 1 when his cut block ended the season of Kansas City safety Eric Berry, prompting charges of dirty play.
Yet as a local story, Johnson continues to fly under the radar. Many are unaware the Buffalo Bills wide receiver and one of the NFL's bright young playmakers grew up in San Francisco, went to high school in Fairfield and junior college in Hayward.
Johnson, who had a leaping 27-yard touchdown reception in a 41-7 win over the Chiefs in Week 1 despite a lingering sore groin, enjoyed a breakout season in 2010 with 82 catches for 1,073 yards and 10 TDs.
He'll be on the opposite sideline when the Bills host the Raiders on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, lacking the kind of speed Oakland covets but having other qualities that make him a dangerous receiver.
Johnson is undaunted about facing some of the NFL's fastest defensive backs, because in terms of straight-line speed he is at a disadvantage almost every weekend.
After posting a 4.59-second time in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, Johnson lasted until the seventh round of the 2008 draft, No. 224 overall. In the fourth round of that same draft, Oakland took Arman Shields, a wide receiver out of Richmond who had knee trouble but managed a 4.44 time at the combine.
Shields spent a
Johnson thinks the combine ought to include a little football along with the tests of speed and strength.
"I guess for a fast guy, it's great to have everybody focus on the 40-yard dash times," Johnson said this week by conference call. "We can still do the 40, but let's do one-on-ones to see who can guard who.
"Some people are fast, some people are not. But some people know how to get open, and some people just have that track speed, you know?"
Johnson spent his youth in the Hunter's Point section of San Francisco, with his stepfather moving the family to Fairfield and Rodriguez High, a new school that didn't have a football program until his junior year.
"I was a quarterback my senior year, running back, defensive end, safety," Johnson said. "I pretty much played everything except wide receiver."
Johnson went to a Nike football camp and joined the defensive backs long enough to determine he didn't like to backpedal. Until he got to Chabot College, he knew nothing about playing wide receiver except how to jump and catch.
"The knock on him was he wasn't fast enough, but he had a long stride and could break the cushion on a defensive back," Chabot coach Danny Calcagno said. "He'd never played wide receiver before, but he was like a sponge, and he just got better and better.
"The first day he came out, he ran a fade route against press coverage and just jumped up and caught the ball and it was like, 'OK, this guy is going to be pretty good.' "
After catching 70 passes for more than a 1,000 yards as a sophomore at Chabot, Johnson accepted a scholarship to Kentucky. He caught 12 passes as a junior, then 61 passes for 1,052 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior.
Criticized for his cut block against Berry, which resulted in a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the Chiefs safety's knee, Johnson said he regrets the outcome but not the block.
Against Pittsburgh last Nov. 28, Johnson dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the end zone in overtime, with the Bills eventually losing19-16.
On his Twitter account afterward, Johnson tweeted, "I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!! AND THIS IS HOW YOU DO ME!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS! EVER!!" Johnson took a lot of heat for including God in the equation. He still has a Twitter account at @steviejohnson13 but will think before he tweets.
"I can't share my thoughts with the world," he said. "I just learned from it. What to say and what not to say."