On December 5, 2020, Brett Johnson played the final game of his second season for the California Golden Bears. Many college football insiders anticipated a bright future for the 6-foot-5-inch, 290-pound defensive lineman. In his first two seasons, he played in all 17 games, recording 46 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and one fumble recovery at a position for which stats rarely tell the entire story.
Little did anyone know that it would be another 1,001 days before the Phoenix native would play in another college football game. Just before the team’s 2021 spring game, Johnson suffered a serious hip injury in an automobile accident that would cost him the entire season. Following a year of intensive recovery and rehabilitation of his hip and just weeks before the start of the 2022 campaign, Johnson would be injured again, this time suffering a torn ACL during a training camp that caused him to miss all of 2022.
“I was able to handle the two injuries by pivoting my attention with relative ease,” Johnson said. “I found myself with more time and freedom to explore life outside of football that I otherwise would not have had. The greatest gift I gained from these injuries was being able to become closer with my friends in Berkeley. These are the people who supported me through everything and made sure I was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in line. I stayed above water on the mental side very well during the hip injury and rehab. The nature of that injury and everything that went into it gave me a larger perspective on my mortality, so I was just thankful to be alive. The ACL injury, while being a relatively easy injury compared to the hip, brought a lot more mental and emotional hardship due to the compounding of the hip injury along with other factors in my personal life that were sources of struggle. While those mental and physical struggles were not easy to deal with, it made it so much sweeter when I came back to the field.”
Johnson returned to action for the 2023 season opener at North Texas on September 2, 2023, and, remarkably, went on to start all 12 games for Cal during a 2023 season that culminated with a berth in the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl versus Texas Tech (Cal was defeated 34-14). He recorded 23 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 0.5 tackles for loss, one pass breakup, and one fumble recovery on his way to earning national semifinalist recognition for AP Comeback Player of the Year.