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Former Seminole DeAndre Johnson making most of second chance

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Joe Mixon and DeAndre Johnson are two very talented football players. They also have something else in common.

Both have punched women with their fists and both have suffered consequences. The severity of those consequences is where the two players traveled different paths.

Mixon is preparing to play in a major bowl game with the Oklahoma Sooners. Johnson, a former prized recruit at Florida State, just finished the season at an obscure community college.

Seventh-ranked Oklahoma and Mixon are preparing for a great matchup against 14th-ranked Auburn in the Sugar Bowl on January 2. Mixon, a vital part of the Oklahoma offense, had more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns this past season.

As the big game approaches, people are not talking about what he did on the field in 2016. The chatter is all about what he did off the field in 2014.

In an ugly episode reminiscent of former NFL running back Ray Rice, Mixon knocked out a female student with one punch. The video is hard to watch, but it shows the victim, Amelia Molitor, shoving Mixon, who responds with a thundering right hand.

The blow broke four bones in her face and her jaw was wired shut for weeks.

Mixon was suspended for the entire 2014 season by Coach Bob Stoops and the university. The video was only recently released, which brought the matter front and center again.

Many are outraged that Mixon is being allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl. Stoops does not defend what Mixon did.

“It was horrible,” said Stoops. “I hated it. I hated it as much as anybody did, absolutely.

He believes the punishment of missing an entire season was severe and thought it was tough enough at the time.

“Two and a half years ago, I thought we had a significant penalty, a strong penalty,” he said. “Now it isn’t enough.”

Stoops made another pertinent observation. Mixon, Stoops pointed out, had not yet played a down for the Sooners as an 18-year-old freshman.

“But in the end, it’s easy to just dismiss it or remove a guy and head on down the road,” he said. “In the end, too, maybe I have too strong a commitment to these guys I recruit.”

By today’s standards, Stoops said, Mixon would have been dismissed. He also lamented the lack of opportunity for players like Mixon (had he been dismissed) to have “a second chance.”

This is the perfect segue into the case of Johnson. He was a highly touted quarterback from Jacksonville, who was recruited to Florida State by Jimbo Fisher.

Like Mixon, Johnson was caught on video punching a woman in 2015 before he had played a down for FSU. Fisher dismissed Johnson from the team.

To his credit, Johnson took responsibility and apologized to the victim, and his mother, on national television. Seeking another chance, he enrolled at East Mississippi Community College, dubbed “Last Chance U” by a Netflix documentary for their history of taking players with issues.

He played in 11 games this year, throwing for 2,646 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushing for five more. Next season he will be back in Florida, playing major college football.

Newly-hired Florida Atlantic Coach Lane Kiffin made Johnson his first recruit last week. He will have three years of eligibility.

In addition to playing football, Johnson will be assisting in efforts to combat a violence prevention program.

Johnson will probably watch Mixon play in the Sugar Bowl. Had he not done what he did, he would likely be leading the Seminoles into the Orange Bowl against Michigan. It is possible Deondre Francois might have beaten him out for the starter’s job, but we’ll never know.

Though Stoops thought a year’s suspension was enough at the time, thankfully Fisher did not feel the same way only a year later. Oklahoma could have cut Mixon loose and forced him to earn his second chance the way Johnson did.

Both, however, have provided a shred of a silver lining with their separate actions. Awareness is growing about violence against women. With awareness there is an increased chance of more prevention.

That’s a good thing.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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