Brett Johnson, expected to miss the entire 2021 season after a March car accident that required him to undergo hip surgery, hinted to reporters on Wednesday that it’s possible he could return sooner than the fall of 2022.
“We don’t have any specific timeline but I will be back as soon as possible,” Johnson said during a group Zoom call.
Later, in a separate interview, I asked him if he is now aiming toward possibly playing at some point this season. Johnson stopped short of ruling that out.
“We’ll see, but there’s no absolutes with it,” he said. “I’m just going to continue to work hard and get back on it as soon as I can.
“Obviously, I hope to be on the field tomorrow. I hope to be back as quick as I can. It’ll be determined by how my hip feels. Right now it’s feeling pretty good.”
Regarded as Cal’s best and most versatile defensive lineman, the 6-foot-5, 300-pound junior from Phoenix broke his hip during a car accident. Cal originally announced the injury and ensuing surgery on April 14, but Johnson said Wednesday the accident actually took place on March 18.
He declined to give specifics about the accident other than to confirm he was a passenger in the car, not the driver.
Cal’s news release in April said Johnson would miss the entire 2021 season and return in 2022. He confirmed he expects be at Cal still in 2022, postponing an exit to the NFL. Had he not been injured and was able to play a fully healthy 2021 schedule, Johnson said the 2022 NFL draft “was definitely a possibility.”
He doesn’t believe the injury has derailed his professional prospects. “The way I see it is (the NFL) is not out of the realm of possibility, it’s just postponed,” he said.
The Bears’ lack of experience along the D-line heading into this season was deemed so severe that the coaching welcomed back sixth-year senior Luc Bequette, who had bolted to Boston College last fall after it appeared the Pac-12 was canceling its football season.
Johnson said Bequette will provide a huge boost.
“I think it’s great. Luc was a great friend to me my freshman year when I first got there. He definitely showed me the ropes,” Johnson said. “Super nice guy. Great player, obviously. Good person to have in the locker room.”
As far as his own recovery, Johnson said, “I’m pretty much starting from scratch.”
After spending about 10 days in the hospital, Johnson returned home to his family because he was unable to take care of himself immediately. “It was great having them with me,” he said of the support he got from his parents.
In the meantime, Johnson needed to cut his long hair at the hospital because he couldn’t maintain it. He has since started to grow a mustache he said is drawing comparisons to former A’s relief pitcher Rollie Fingers. Here's more on that topic:
Following surgery, Johnson started with a walker, then graduated to crutches. When he could walk without help, he returned to Berkeley on July 11 and has continued his rehab. He’s able to do extensive upper-body work and “very minimal lower-body with the strength staff.”
“I’m feeling pretty great. Building up my muscles and doing rehab, just to make sure to get my hip strong again so I can get on the field soon,” he said, once more perhaps hinting at an accelerated timeline. “Working through minimal discomfort. Still some issues, but nothing that’s not going to be overcome soon enough.”
In both interview sessions, Johnson sounded generally upbeat. He called the injury “a bummer,” but said it hasn’t been hard to stay optimistic. “I’m still improving,” he said. “I still have a lot of hope and there’s a lot of brightness in the future.
“The way I see it is I’m just licking my wounds until I can get out there again.”
One thing is certain: Johnson is happy to be back in Berkeley.
“I really do belong here, I feel like. Especially being back with the team, getting fit again, just getting back in my rhythm,” he said. “Going back to Arizona I don’t want to say detracted from football by any means, because I needed to do that to get back to football, to heal.
“But I was falling out of the loop a little bit just with football and the team. It’s good to be back and be back in the culture again.”
On the day he first walked through the Bears’ locker room, his surprised teammates gave him a rousing welcome.
“It was awesome,” Johnson said. “I was happy to see everyone. Those are my boys. I love ‘em.”
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo