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In Memoriam: Oklahoma DB Darrius Johnson

Johnson was a cornerback and punt returner for the Sooners, and in 1998, he helped Denver win its second straight Super Bowl with two postseason interceptions

Former Oklahoma football player Darrius Johnson has died. He was 47.

News of Johnson’s death began to circulate Thursday morning after former OU teammate and current Sooners assistant Cale Gundy posted about it on Twitter.

A source said Johnson had been experiencing health problems in recent years. Additional sources said the cause of death was sudden heart failure.

Johnson came to Gary Gibbs’ OU squad in 1991 from Terrell, TX. He was a defensive back and punt returner, owning the return job for three seasons (1993-95). He returned 71 punts for 541 yards (7.6 average) as a Sooner, including a touchdown return in 1994. He also averaged 20.4 yards on kickoff returns.

Darrius Johnson

Darrius Johnson

In 1994, Johnson earned first-team All-Big Eight honors as a defensive back.

“Great kid,” said former OU defensive backs coach Bobby Proctor, who coached Johnson as a true freshman in 1991 during Johnson’s redshirt season. “One of them kids, you never know when he’s around, because he just does everything right.”

“Great kid, really smiley kid. With great speed.”

Proctor said he recalls that Johnson was recruited out of Terrell by then-linebackers coach John Blake, who coached as an assistant at OU in 1992 before taking a job with the Dallas Cowboys. Blake returned to OU as head coach in 1997, but Johnson had just left after playing his senior year under Howard Schnellenberger.

Darrius Johnson

Darrius Johnson


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“He was a great speed kid,” Proctor said. “He could run. I mean just fly.”


Johnson was a fourth-round NFL Draft pick and played five seasons in the NFL, including four with the Denver Broncos as a backup cornerback and special teams contributor. He played 61 games with the Broncos from 1996-99, made four starts — and won two Super Bowls.

Darrius Johnson

Darrius Johnson

Johnson had two postseason interceptions in 1998 to help the Broncos repeat as Super Bowl champs, including a pick in Super Bowl 33 against Atlanta (watch Johnson's interception on the YouTube link below; skip ahead to the 5:15 mark).

In 2003, at the age of 30, Johnson signed with Kansas City and played in two games for the Chiefs.

At OU, Johnson started the 1994 and 1995 seasons at cornerback opposite William Shankle. The Sooners were 25-18-3 during Johnson’s four years, but lost games despite some stout defenses that included talent like Darnell Walker, Aubrey Beavers, Mario Freeman, Cedric Jones, Tyrell Peters, Kelly Gregg and Barron Tanner.

Gregg was a true freshman in 1995 when Johnson was a senior.

“I’ll never forget how, playing as a freshman, he was just so helpful and encouraging. Great guy,” Gregg said. “So lively in practice. Never was one of those guys — sometimes guys get run down — but I just remember his energy.

“He was a true shutdown corner, the way he carried himself. I’ll never forget when he got drafted, he had a convertible and everything,” Gregg added with a laugh. “But yeah, just terrible news.”