Sports column: Johnson, Butler and Anderson show how to follow a dream

Published 11:05 am Monday, March 18, 2024

There was plenty of news, and some symmetry, this week involving former Vicksburg High football players Rory Johnson, Malcolm Butler and Nick Anderson.

Johnson, who retired in 2023 after 13 seasons playing in the German Football League, announced he will play in the GFL’s alumni all-star game on April 6. Johnson is seguing into a coaching career as the defensive coordinator for the league’s Saarland Hurricanes.

Butler, during an interview with a Houston TV station, indicated that he was officially retired from the NFL after a career that included two Super Bowl victories with the New England Patriots and one of football’s most memorable plays. Butler last played in a regular-season game in 2020 and hadn’t played at all since the 2022 preseason.

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Anderson, meanwhile, signed a contract with the Edmonton Elks of the Canadian Football League. Anderson was an undrafted free agent with the New Orleans Saints but was released at the end of training camp last summer.

The three former Gators span a generation. Johnson graduted in 2004, Butler in 2009 and Anderson in 2018. They share much more than just an alma mater and a football lineage, though. They’re all great examples of how to find a path to doing what you love, no matter where it takes you.

Johnson was an All-SEC linebacker at Ole Miss, but his NFL career didn’t pan out. He was released by the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants, as well as Edmonton of the CFL, after brief stints. He gambled on an unusual opportunity in Germany and found a home. Fourteen years later he’s a respected legend in the league.

Butler, famously, was working at Popeye’s on Pemberton Boulevard after getting kicked out of Hinds Community College. Hundreds of other players have been at similar points and given up when their football careers hit a dead end. Not Butler.

He pulled himself together, worked his way back to Hinds, earned a scholarship to Division II West Alabama, signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent and made the opening day roster with an outstanding training camp in 2014. The rest is NFL history.

Anderson had some offers from FCS schools, but bet on himself by signing with Jones College. He quickly parlayed that into a scholarship offer from Tulane and became a program legend.

Anderson was a captain on the team that went from 2-12 in 2021 to 12-2 in 2022. The latter season ended with a No. 9 national ranking and a Cotton Bowl victory over Southern California and its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams.

Although his shot with the Saints didn’t pan out, Anderson is beginning another chapter in Canada. He certainly has some inspiration from Johnson and Butler on how to make it work.

And that’s the lesson we can all take away from Johnson, Butler and Anderson, no matter our profession or station in life. Just because one door closes or a dream seems dashed, doesn’t mean you have to give up.
It might look a little different, and might not be what you originally thought, but if you keep working toward your goal, to better yourself and your skills, and maintain hope, you can certainly find happiness and success.

“Never give up on your dreams or your desires. I had a lot of people try to persuade me to go another route, or persuade me that I’ve accomplished so much. But my desires and my dreams were bigger than what I’ve already accomplished,” Anderson said. “Never let anybody else or the negative side of yourself dictate what you desire to do with your life. Keep putting God first and keep going after it, and I promise you’re going to reap the blessings you’re after.”

If you doubt that, just look at a few guys from Vicksburg who have done it.

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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