Panthers represented well in the NFL

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Panthers represented well in the NFL

COURTESY PHOTO/UNI Athletics

COURTESY PHOTO/UNI Athletics

COURTESY PHOTO/UNI Athletics

JACOB POTTER, Sports Editor

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UNI has always been represented with excellence in the NFL headlined by the former Cedar Falls Hy-Vee employee-turned-Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner, 1995 Defensive Player of the Year Bryce Paup and 2016 Pro Bowl running back David Johnson.

“All I wanted, for a long, time was just give me a chance,” Warner said in a 2016 UNI Athletics press conference.  “If you put a football in my hand and let me legitimately compete against everyone else […] It’s fun that UNI is starting to get on the map.”

The former Cedar Rapids Regis High School quarterback was in the same position as every athlete that has passed through UNI with big dreams, and in 2016, the NFL Hall of Famer returned to campus to share his story.

“Knowing that there’s so many kids that are in a position that I was in 25 years ago […] they’re wondering how you get from there to where I’m at,” Warner said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for me to share my story […] because I have a weird story.  I got a crazy story and I took a lot of turns. I think that’s the beauty in it […] I think I’ve got a great story that can really touch a lot of people.”

The fact that Warner went undrafted makes his story more relatable to UNI athletes.  Warner’s legacy lives on as several Panthers have followed in his footsteps of making it to the NFL.

Aside from Johnson, Xavier Williams is playing nearby with his hometown Kansas City Chiefs, Daurice Fountain is with the Indianapolis Colts, L.J. Fort was recently picked up by the Baltimore Ravens and Deiondre’ Hall played for the Philadelphia Eagles last season.

Head coach Mark Farley is proud of what former Panthers like Johnson are doing off the field as well as on the gridiron.

“What Phoenix found out about David Johnson is that he’s more than a football player,” Farley said.  “He is completely involved with the community, he is completely involved with the kids and he’s a great ambassador to your school and your professional team.”

Johnson just opened his fourth “David’s Locker,” which are recreation centers for children in hospitals to play video games and use other electronics like iPads, according to arizonasports.com.

Johnson, who now has two children of his own, started the Johnson Family’s Mission31 Foundation, which provides opportunities, support and resources to seriously ill children and their families.

The former Panthers’ impact in the community is matched by his productivity on the field.  After getting off to a good start with 82 yards in the Cardinal’s season opener, Johnson put together a 91-yard rushing attack in Arizona’s most recent game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Farley does his best to keep track of all the Panthers in the NFL.

“I keep track of where they’re at,” Farley said.  “The one I kind of kept track of more recently is L.J. Fort because I saw that he got released by Philadelphia [Eagles], and I’m more concerned that they’re on the teams than what they’re doing within stats.”

Farley’s hope was relieved when Fort was signed by a team with a familiar color scheme in the Baltimore Ravens.  “Only right that I’m back in the Purple & Gold,” Fort said in a recent Twitter post.

“Then I just found out that the Eagles are first in their league and that’s D [Deiondre’] Hall,” Farley said.

The former Panther defensive back was with the Eagles last season, but is looking for a new team this season.  Hall recently worked out for the Colts with the possibility of joining fellow Panther Daurice Fountain.  The Blue Springs, Mo., native put together a strong senior season at UNI with six interceptions and 82 tackles.   

“You know David Johnson’s success last year I think allows a guy like Deiondre’  to go into a [training] camp, and then go, ‘Okay, let’s keep our eye on this guy because we know good players have come from this program,’” Warner said.

Another player to come out of UNI is Xavier Williams, who was coached up by Panther defensive line coach and former four-time Pro Bowler Bryce Paup.  Farley and the coaching staff watch out for what the former Panther is doing for his hometown team.

“Then I found out that the Chiefs got beat the other day [by the Colts], which is Xavier [Williams],” Farley said.  “So, I try to keep track of them, but I just kind of get it sporadically early in the morning.”

The 6-foot-2, 309-pound defensive tackle racked up 93 tackles and eight sacks in his senior season at UNI, but went undrafted, much like Kurt Warner, in the 2015 NFL Draft that saw David Johnson get selected by the Arizona Cardinals.  Soon after the draft, Williams joined the fellow Panther Johnson when the Cardinals signed him as an undrafted free agent.  In 2018, the Kansas City native realized the opportunity to play for his hometown team, and currently contributes to the Chiefs in their effort to make it back to the AFC Championship.

Panther football players have done it all, from Super Bowls and Pro Bowls to currently representing UNI in the NFL and doing impactful work in the community that will last a lifetime.

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