ELMSFORD, N.Y. -- Ten years ago, a tackle turned into a near-death situation, and students at Elmsford's Alexander Hamilton Jr./Sr. High School crowded into an auditorium Tuesday to hear Inquoris "Inky" Johnson's story.
That tackle was intended to stop a wide receiver streaking downfield in a Tennessee Volunteers versus Air Force football game, but it became a grave situation. Johnson had a broken artery in his chest and suffered permanent nerve damage to his arm.
The 29-year-old Atlanta native was a mere eight games from the NFL draft at the time.
Life-saving surgery and a trip to the Mayo Clinic to repair his severed arm held some promise, but Johnson ultimately realized he would never play football again and had to give up a dream he'd been chasing since he was 7 years old.
For most people, such news would have been devastating. But Johnson chose to direct his life toward another path. He chose to mentor kids in underprivileged neighborhoods, like the one he was raised in, to become a beacon for youth dealing with adversity.
"I was raised to fight for what I believe in," Johnson said.
That conviction and a strong faith helped during his long road to recovery and got him thinking about ways he could help others.
Standing close to his audience of both students and staff, his artificial hand showing below his sleeve, Johnson recalled his rise from poverty and violence and the determination that has helped him overcome adversity and succeed.
He recalled his childhood, that night after night he would train on the streets of Atlanta with his older cousin, running between light poles until his mother finished her shift at a local Wendy's.
A football coach noticed his talent and tenacity and signed him up for organized sports. He later won a full scholarship to the Volunteers.
"I didn’t get what I thought I was going to get out of life," Johnson said. "But sometimes life takes a different route and in order to survive, you've got to figure things out.
Johnson -- who has both a bachelor's and master's from the University of Tennessee -- told students that, rather than feeling sorry for themselves about life's setbacks, they must constantly adapt to change to reach their goals. He also told them not to expect success to come quickly or easily.
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