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Keyshawn Johnson ready to establish himself as player, not author

August 15, 1997

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) _ Will Keyshawn Johnson succeed in the NFL? Just ask him.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft, Johnson already has made his mark for writing a bitter autobiography after his rookie season. The book, ``Just Give Me The Damn Ball,″ caused a huge rift between Johnson and many of his New York Jets teammates that still hasn’t completely closed.

Johnson isn’t letting the heavy criticism he received for his tome slow his development as a professional receiver.

``I will not allow myself to be a bust,″ he said. ``I’ll quit before I’ll be a bust. I think I can be as good as I allow myself to be. I’m not getting caught up in the hype and I’m just trying to play football and see some progress in where we’re going.″

Johnson thinks he’s good enough to eventually go to the Pro Bowl, and believes the Jets might make the playoffs soon under the new coaching staff of Bill Parcells. He has that much confidence in himself and in the people he’s working for.

``I have to treat this year as my rookie year,″ said Johnson, who had 63 receptions for 844 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games last season. ``I didn’t learn anything about pro football last year.

``I’m treating it as my training camp and this as my first season. Now, I’m learning about pro football and how to play the game, be a receiver in the NFL. I didn’t enjoy playing last year, but this will be different.″

What won’t be different is Johnson’s attitude, which he claims has been misinterpreted by many. Johnson often is perceived as a loudmouth, a complainer and a back-stabber because, in his book, he dissed teammates and coaches from his rookie year, when the Jets went 1-15 and he made few plays associated with a No. 1 pick. The title itself indicates the receiver has a selfish streak and wasn’t happy with his role as a pro.

``I think there are a lot of fans who like me and a lot of fans who dislike me, for whatever reason,″ Johnson said. ``They have to form their own opinion; I don’t get down or bitter about that.

``I can upset people at times. I can be egotistical, maybe selfish, I guess, if that means give me the football. If it’s third-and-3 and we’re on the 7-yard line, I think, `Throw it to me and I’ll score a touchdown.′

``If that’s being selfish, I guess I’m selfish.″

Being selfish is taking shots at Wayne Chrebet, the most productive receiver in his first two NFL seasons in league history, or calling quarterback Neil O’Donnell a ``stiff puppet″ of then-coach Rich Kotite.

Being selfish also is a positive trait for a receiver. He should want every pass thrown his way. But he shouldn’t knock his teammates when they get more attention from O’Donnell.

Johnson seems almost ready to grasp that.

``We’re working well together,″ O’Donnell said. ``Keyshawn’s doing fine out there. He’s doing what he’s told to do. He’s getting open. I have no problem with Keyshawn.″

Johnson was an All-America game-breaker at Southern Cal. He rarely was used in the right spots last season.

He predicts a coming-out party, particularly since he and O’Donnell apparently are on tuned to the same channel.

``I think he’s checking for me a little bit more,″ Johnson said. ``He gets in the huddle and says, `C’mon, Key, let’s go.′ That’s what the quarterback’s supposed to do. He’s looking for you and that makes you play better.

``If he’s going to throw me the ball, I better go catch it.″

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