EAGAN, Minn. – Prior to last summer, Bisi Johnson hadn't missed an entire season of football since starting the sport at age 7.
The Vikings receiver didn't know what life looked like without football. But during a training camp practice at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center last year, Johnson suffered a torn ACL during 1-on-1s.
When Johnson initially went down, he hoped no significant damage had been done.
"I mean, I knew something was wrong, but I walked off the field and everything. I felt OK," Johnson told Twin Cities media members following Tuesday's Organized Team Activity practice. "I was hoping there was that slim chance that maybe I didn't do anything – but sure enough, I did."
View photos from the Vikings OTA practice which took place on May 24 at the TCO Performance Center.
The knee injury forced Johnson to the sideline on the heels of a 2020 campaign in which he averaged 13.5 yards per reception and started three of the 16 games he played.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had been excited about the progress Johnson showed.
Cousins referenced Minnesota's Week 12 game against Carolina in 2020, in which Johnson started in place of Adam Thielen, who'd landed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Johnson caught all seven passes Cousins threw his way, recording 74 yards en route to the Vikings 28-27 win.
"We put Olabisi in the spot where Adam would normally be, and he just had a great game. Kept getting open," Cousins recalled. "He was reliable. I remember thinking in Year 3 he was going to take a big step and really show up.
"I've always had a high opinion of him, and I do think in Year 4 I expect him to have a very productive year and provide a great deal of depth for us," Cousins added. "I'm excited about him."
Cousins' sentiments were echoed by new Vikings Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips, who said he's been "more than pleased" with the way Johnson has shown up in the meeting room and at practice.
Johnson acknowledged the initial difficulty of "trusting" his knee after nine months away from the football field.
"I think that's pretty normal with an injury like this, kind of hard to trust it at first, but I think with how the coaches have made the schedule and everything, it was easy to – doing a lot of walk-throughs, it was easy to ease into it, start trusting it," Johnson said. "Build trust with my knee, with my body, with everything, honestly. My brain. Just knowing the playbook and things like that. But I'm feeling good."
Johnson credited his "support system" made up of family and friends for getting him through a long, taxing rehab process. The receiver stayed mainly in Minnesota, where loved ones would come to visit, but he also made occasional trips back home to Colorado.
"That's kind of how I kept my sanity," Johnson said.
He also watched sports … and a lot of them.
Of course, he took in plenty of football games from the TV while yearning to be on the field. But Johnson also watched "hockey, baseball, all of it" while recovering.
"[I was] never into hockey before. But I'm from Colorado, and now that the Avs (Avalanche) are doing good, I'm full game on that. I mean, the Wild were in it, I was full game on them," he said. "I've never watched hockey in my life, really, like that, but I went to like three games this past season, and I guess I'm an NHL fan now."
As difficult as it was to miss an entire season, Johnson has rediscovered a passion for football he hadn't realized had dimmed.
"You get kind of stagnant, you know? You're going through the same motions – you're going to work every day. You've been practicing every Monday through Friday the last three years I've been in the league," he said. "You know, as much as I still loved it, I probably lost it a little. And then I sat out a year and I'm like, 'Damn. I really missed this.'
"I really missed football, being out there on the field with my teammates. Making plays, scoring touchdowns," Johnson added. "I mean, that's what it's all about – and it's not fun to sit on the sideline injured."
Now 9 months removed from the injury, Johnson doesn't take a moment on the practice field for granted – and he's especially energized by a fresh start under the new Vikings coaching staff.
The 25-year-old raved about a "great" offensive scheme under Kevin O'Connell and said the new head coach's vigor is contagious.
"I think the energy is incredible around the building. I think K.O. really has the whole team bought in. The whole organization," Johnson said. "A lot of people talk about, 'Oh, that first year – a new coach, everything, you're going [have less success].'
"I don't see it happening," he continued, "because I see a lot of guys bought in, I see a great offensive scheme, it sounds like we have a great defensive scheme, so we're bringing a lot of vets in and a lot of good players. I think we have a great chance of accomplishing what we want to this next year."