By Thomas K. Grose
As far as football careers go, Charley Johnson's was
stellar. As a chemical engineering undergraduate, he quarterbacked
the New Mexico State University Aggies to two consecutive
Sun Bowl victories, and his 1960 team was undefeated. He went
on to a 15-year NFL career, quarterbacking for the St. Louis
Cardinals, the Denver Broncos, and the Houston Oilers. Today,
Johnson is back at NMSU. He was head of the chemical engineering
department, but in September was named to a new post that
takes advantage of his sports career: assistant to the president
for athletic progress. And he still teaches chemical engineering.
To students, Johnson's football career is "ancient
history." Still, occasionally a student notices the
keepsakes he keeps in a corner of his office, and then realizes
that "Professor Johnson" was once a football hero.
Johnson rarely mentions his NFL career in the classroom.
But he draws upon his playing days' experiences to emphasize
two key lessons: steadfastness and teamwork. He tells students,
"Don't ever quit, even if you're beat up,
tired, disgusted, and discouraged." For chemical engineering
students needing 135 hours to graduate, that's good
advice. And teamwork, Johnson says, is something that companies
insist students learn. "These students will be stuck
on a team of some kind wherever they work, and they may not
be the leader. They must learn to adjust."
Johnson was an NFL rarity. Few active pro players have earned
a master's and a Ph.D., as he did. After retiring from
football in 1975, Johnson eventually launched his own company
in Houston: Johnson Compression Services, which devised technologies
to "pump" natural gas. In 2000, he returned to
NMSU to teach. Rather than try to keep his business going
on a part-time scale, he folded it. "I felt obligated
to spend time with my students, and I enjoy that." —Thomas