When Jaylon Johnson entered State Farm Stadium in Arizona last Sunday, his dream of playing in the Super Bowl became more tangible.
As the Bears' nominee for the 2022 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, Johnson attended Super Bowl LVII after participating in weeklong festivities with nominees from the other 31 teams.
In a telephone interview Thursday from his home in Fresno, Calif., Johnson said that experiencing the sights and sounds—and even the smell of the grass—provided more motivation for him to play in a Super Bowl.
"Before I got down on the field, I went up to a suite," said the Bears cornerback. "Just looking down on the field at everybody warming up, I thought, 'That could be me, that could be us.'
"It was a bittersweet feeling. Being out there and seeing the environment and being able to be so close but not playing made me want to be better, made me want to win so much more to try to get to play in a game of that magnitude."
Being named the Bears' nominee for the Man of the Year Award was special to Johnson. Considered one of the NFL's most prestigious honors, it recognizes players who have not only exhibited excellence on the field, but whose passion to impact lives extends beyond the game and has led them to leave a positive legacy in their communities.
On the field, Johnson is determined to become an elite NFL cornerback. Off the field, he's committed to community service, most notably a non-profit organization he founded in Fresno.
The Kevvy's Vision Project is named after Kev'Vion Schrubb, Johnson's childhood friend who lost his life due to gun violence in 2021. The organization strives to empower and motivate underprivileged communities while giving them equal opportunities to succeed.
In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, Johnson and the other Man of the Year nominees appeared on the NFL Honors TV show and participated in a community event at a local Boys & Girls Club.
Johnson also had the opportunity to design his own shoe at a local Nike store.
"I've never experienced that before," he said. "But I got to customize it and create it. I pretty much went through the whole process. I even put a lab coat on to give myself the full effect."
At the Super Bowl, Johnson and the other 31 nominees were on the field for a pre-game ceremony during which Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was named NFL Man of the Year.
"It felt really good to walk out with those other Man of the Year nominees and walk out with the Payton family and watch Dak accept that award," Johnson said. "It really felt surreal in that moment. I was very honored and very blessed. It was special to be a part of that."