The man that once went by the name “The Freak” has now settled in with newly formed Los Angeles Wildcats of the XFL. Former LSU and well-traveled NFL journeyman, Anthony Johnson goes by a different name now, “The Landlord”. In a recently viral video posted by his new team, Johnson was seen during practice exclaiming in a booming voice, “RENTS DUE!!!” The self-proclaimed landlord has officially put opposing offenses on notice the he’s here to collect. To be perfectly honest, I believe him. They better heed his warning.
The legend of the Landlord dates back to his days in high school with O.P. Walker. While there, his “rent” came in the form of sacks. Johnson collected 67.5 sacks from opposing offenses, setting a Louisiana state record. During his senior year in 2010, he accounted for 129 tackles, 31 tackles for loss, and 17.5 sacks. He was the consensus No. 2 overall player by ESPN, just behind Jadeveon Clowney. During his recruitment, former NFL defensive coaching legend Monte Kiffin nicknamed Anthony “The Freak”. This distinctive moniker applied to his stats, hulking size, and speed of a 4.8 second 40-yard dash. For someone of his stature (300lbs+), speed like that was uncommon. He initially committed to Tennessee, but would opt out of that decision, eventually taking his talents to LSU.
Under former coach Les Miles, Anthony Johnson garnered 1st team Freshman All-American and 2nd All-SEC honors. He also added an SEC Championship and a national championship game appearance to his resume. When being named All-SEC 2nd team in 2013, he had arguably his best season as a Tiger with 35 tackles, a team high 9.0 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks. After a win against Iowa in the Outback Bowl, he decided to forego his senior year and enter the 2014 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately, Anthony went undrafted, to the surprise of many. He did find homes with the Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins, New England Patriots, New York Jets, and Indianapolis Colts. He never quite blossomed into the player in the NFL that most had speculated he would be. In all honesty, it made no sense. While with the Washington Redskins, a former trainer, Derrick Joseph recalls his encounter with Johnson. Initially, he thought his lack of success was possibly attributed to not putting in the work to be successful. However, he was quickly proven wrong. “Seeing him work with me, I was like ‘oh sh-‘. His problem I think was the concept or the scheme didn’t fit him. Seeing him work, I don’t know why he was a free agent. I didn’t know why he got cut…Some players, it’s like ‘OK, I see why you’re here.’ But with Anthony, I’m just like ‘Why are you where you’re at?’ It’s shocking,” said Joseph.
The next stop on his journey would be with the Memphis Express of the famously defunct Alliance of American Football (AAF). He started off strong with 11 tackles and 2 sacks. Unfortunately, the injury bug reared its ugly head and forced him to be placed on injured reserve. Less than a month later, he was reactivated to the main roster. However, shortly thereafter, the upstart league closed up shop leaving a lot of former players on the street and unpaid. From there, Anthony briefly joined the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL before being drafted by the XFL’s Los Angeles Wildcats in October of 2019.
Approaching their opening game this Saturday, Anthony Johnson has made it clear what to expect from his defense. If you’re looking for a team that lacks aggressiveness and demonstrates grace to their opponent, this is not your team. “Our identity and what we’ll be doing is being nasty and physical and to be ferocious. At the end of the day, we’ll be a physical group. You can’t go out there tip-toeing. You gotta go out there and lay the lumber, and that’s what we plan on doing,” Johnson said. This identity he is speaking of gives a breath of fresh air to those who feel like the game has gotten soft. As a matter of fact, Anthony has ingrained it into the minds of his teammates. It has become “The Wildcat Way”. Former Auburn LB and current captain of the defense Tre’ Williams describes it as this, “The intensity you bring. That grit you have deep on the inside that comes out of you when it’s time to work. No holding back, leave it all out there on the field. Just dominate whoever’s in front of you. And have fun with it. It should be fun putting in work. It should be fun running around with your brothers.” If you have any doubts of that mission statement, just go back and watch some Wildcat practices. Every syllable uttered in those sentences takes shape on every down of this Johnson-led defense.
Perhaps one most valuable assets that Anthony Johnson brings to his team is that of leadership. Johnson has a wealth of experience and has overcome a lot of adversity along the way. He’s already earned the endorsement of his coaches. “I feel like I am the leader of this team. At the end of the day, I walk that way. I present myself that way and the coaches give me that opportunity to do so. I just try to go out there and be myself every day, be an energetic guy, be a playmaker and be a leader the guys can follow,” Johnson said. Based on videos he or the Wildcats have posted, Anthony is doing just that. His delivery is very passionate, firm, and in a way that builds everyone around him up. Included in those same clips are confirmations that his teammates have embraced him as a leader as well. One of the things that makes him equipped for this position is a willingness to give back and to pour into others. “Lord, no matter how high I go, please never let me forget how low I once was. Let me always have helping hands and a humble heart,” Johnson says in a prayer pinned to his Twitter account. A person can yell, scream, and instruct. However, if the heart for the individual you are trying to mentor isn’t there, it’s all in vain. He knows that. That’s why the echoes of that prayer will be carried out in everything Anthony does as the “heart and soul” of his defense. I can vouch for Anthony that those words are indeed true. They have extended beyond the gridiron. There has been several conversations with Anthony since I started following him on Twitter over a year ago. He’s been very encouraging and uplifting to me as I’ve endured trials in my life. Adding to that, Johnson has also provided prayer for my situations. Being grateful, I also returned the favor whenever he’s voiced concerns he’s faced. Based on these things, he should definitely receive a strong endorsement as the leader of the LA Wildcats.
If you’re looking for a solid player to follow in this revived edition of the XFL, look no further than Anthony Johnson. His story on and off the field is very compelling. He’s a man that inspires his team and provides an example for aspiring athletes to follow. However, if you should happen to cheer for an opposing team that he’s playing against, make no mistake. He’s all business. Take seriously the warning issued at the beginning of this article, “RENTS DUE”. The Landlord has every intention of following through with his decree. “I told people this, I’m the ‘landlord’ for a reason. You’ve never heard Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaq, Kobe, nobody say that. We’re going to win some championships with the Wildcats,” Johnson said. So, prepare yourselves fellow XFL enthusiasts. This is the year of the Landlord!
I am a 2003 graduate from the University of Alabama with a degree in Exercise Science. While at the Capstone, I served as a student assistant with the head strength and conditioning coach of the Crimson Tide football team. I have competed in both powerlifting and bodybuilding for several years. In addition, I have served athletes and people through the arena of personal training. Jesus is my Lord and Savior. I am a passionate fan of Alabama, but do not make other fan bases miserable because of it. College football has my heart first, but I cover all areas of sports. Follow me on Twitter: @justinriley7!