April 14, 2015

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida offensive tackle Rod Johnson has plans for a new tattoo, one to mark his final day as a football player.

Johnson, who had been expected to start for the Gators this fall, instead ended his career Tuesday because of a spine problem.

The team released a statement saying Johnson has been diagnosed with congenital cervical stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that prevents enough fluid to gather around the spinal cord. The fluid protects the spinal cord from injury.

''Just heartbreaking news on Rod,'' Gators coach Jim McElwain said before a speaking engagement Tuesday evening. ''It was one of those deals that we wanted to make sure that we got as many opinions as possible to make sure. Just feel horrible for him, and yet at the same time, a blessing that it was kind of discovered through what we kind of thought was probably a stinger.''

Johnson experienced numbness in his fingers and hands after he was injured April 3 during a scrimmage. McElwain initially called it a stinger but later said it could be career-threatening. Johnson sat out the final week of practice along with Saturday's spring game.

Johnson posted on his Twitter page Tuesday that he wants a tattoo to remember his final playing day, saying ''4/3/15 will tat it on me my last play in the swamp saw that white light when I went down and I stood and walk off the field with pride.''

The 6-foot-6, 296-pound Johnson underwent several tests, and Florida's medical team consulted with specialists before recommending he retire from football.

McElwain made it clear Saturday that Johnson's future was in doubt and he didn't want to risk further injury.

''One thing I'll tell you this about any player: I will never, ever put him out there in harm's way,'' McElwain said after the spring game. ''Life's too short, man. Ain't gonna do it. Ain't gonna do it to a young guy.''

Johnson, a third-year sophomore from Delray Beach, made his first career start last season against Kentucky and started two more games.

Without him, the Gators have just six healthy scholarship linemen heading into fall camp. Six freshmen offensive linemen are headed to Gainesville this summer, including five-star recruit Martez Ivey, but none of them is sure to help right away.

McElwain said Johnson will remain with the program to help with the younger guys.

''We're kind of going through the different things we need to do right now, but I look forward to him being a great influence on these young guys that are coming in,'' McElwain said Tuesday. ''As they get here this summer, I'll put him in charge and he'll work almost as a coach, as a student assistant moving forward. Look forward to him being with us as he continues to get his degree and move forward into that part of his life.''

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