KANSAS CITY — His 25-day holdout made Larry Johnson the most highly paid player in Kansas City Chiefs history. The Pro Bowl running back is not sure, however, if it will make him ready for a full role in the season opener.
Asked Wednesday if he thought he’d be 100 percent ready by Sept. 9 when the Chiefs open at Houston, Johnson said, “No, it’ll take a little bit more than that.
“Obviously, coaches are going to do a great job trying to get me on track to where week two or week three of the season I can hit my full stride,” he said. “I’m going to try pick up as fast as I can.”
The 27-year-old running back appears to be in top shape after working out twice a day in Arizona while his teammates went through training camp in River Falls, Wis. He signed a contract extension on Tuesday, extending his commitment for five years beyond 2007. Just minutes later, he ran onto the practice field to the cheers of teammates who hadn’t expected to see him.
The deal includes a guaranteed $19 million. He would receive $27.7 million in the first three years of the extension.
Many think that taking off during camp and the first three exhibition games could prove beneficial after Johnson carried an NFL-record 416 times last year.
“What I know about myself is I’ve never been a fast starter coming out of the blocks in a season,” he said. “I’ve always been –the last eight games is when I really turn it on. So I’m going to push myself as hard as I can to try to even it out.”
He’s not ready to say absolutely he won’t be at full speed by Sept. 9.
“It all depends on how I’m feeling. Of course, the adrenaline takes over,” he said. “You’re excited about playing. So we’ll see. It all depends on what type of game we’ll get ourselves into.
“It will come in due time. My legs are as fresh as can be right now. It will all help me when it comes to the last week of the season.”
Making big money will mean a bigger responsibility, Johnson said. Often in his first four years the 6-1, 235-pounder has been described as moody and uncommunicative. Those days are over, he said.
“It gives you a lot of responsibility,” he said. “Whether you want it or don’t want it, the responsibility is they made you the highest-paid guy in franchise history. You have to own up to it not only on the football field but in the community, and off the field. Those are the types of things you have to live with being the top-paid guy. You have to live with those responsibilities.”
It was family responsibility, he said, that led him to hold out and demand big money after breaking the team rushing record two years in a row and emerging as one of the league’s premier backs.
“It’s all about family,” he said. “When you have the ability and have the opportunity to be the top earner for your immediate family, for your generation, you’ve got to take the chance. It wasn’t like the money was all for me, all to spend on me. I have a dozen little baby cousins. I have an uncle. I have aunts, I have grandmothers, I have nieces. In the future, I’m going to have nieces and nephews. That’s for them. I’ve got to be smart as far as helping my generation, my unborn kids and their unborn kids. If I have the opportunity to take care of them for the long haul, I have to take that opportunity.”
Holding out, he said, “was the last thing I really wanted to do.”
“I talked to Jim Brown a week ago. He said, ‘That’s something I hate to see happen, somebody out.’
“But I had no other choice. I had to be heard and taken more seriously rather than somebody who was just going to play out a contract, and if I got hurt, then what was I going to do now?”
Kansas high school football team to spend day at Arrowhead: They’ll ride into Arrowhead Stadium with a police escort and get to be on the field with the Chiefs and Saints during pregame warmups.
By the time their special day is done, the football players of Greensburg High School will come away with $50,000 to replace the pads, helmets, jerseys and uniforms that were literally blown away in May when a monster tornado destroyed 95 percent of their small Kansas town.
Players took up a collection among themselves during training camp in River Falls, Wis., and the Chiefs and the NFL also chipped in. Almost all the team’s equipment, along with cheerleading gear, was destroyed in the enhanced F5 twister that also killed 10 people on May 4.
The Kansas City Royals also have donated to the relief effort. General manager Dayton Moore and several players visited the devastated town shortly after the tornado hit.
The Chiefs have not been able to visit in person, but Mitch Holthus, the radio voice of the Chiefs and a native of a small town in Kansas himself, was the impetus for lending a helping hand.
The team all wore Greensburg Rangers caps one day during camp. At Thursday night’s exhibition game with the Saints they will sell specially commissioned hats bearing the Chiefs logo on the back.
Chiefs president Carl Peterson will present the check to the players on the field before the game, and the Rangers will be introduced to the crowd.
After the game, the Greensburg players will meet with the Chiefs in the locker room.