Katelynn Johnson can still be spotted on the sidelines of football stadiums. Her infectious laugh remains. So does her unflagging energy.
But no more pom-poms. No more whipping up the home crowd. No more green and yellow and black and gray (at least not in public).
Now, it’s all about microphones and cameras and joshing with fans of every stripe.
Just a year removed from the University of Oregon campus, the former Duck cheerleader is traveling the country as a reporter and personality on Foxsports.com’s The College Experiment online show. She was hired just a few months after graduating.
On the web show, she visits campuses and stadiums, soaking up the college atmosphere and trying out things she never got to experience in Duckville, such as tailgating with fans. From time to time, she throws herself into extreme sports.
With the college football season fast approaching, she is gearing up for another round of trips. “Follow my adventures this season — which school will I be at next?” she wrote on her Facebook wall earlier this month. Last season, she reported from Michigan, Ole Miss, Tennessee and the BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz.
She also returned to Autzen Stadium in November for a segment on the Oregon-Arizona game.
“Eugene and Springfield were great towns to grow up in, and they have both shaped me into the ‘down to earth’ woman I am today,” the Thurston High School grad says. “For me, I just set goals for myself and work my best to reach them.”
Her work includes modeling. Her photos are all over the Internet. She made the semifinals of Foxsports.com’s 2010 Cheerleader of the Year contest. And in November 2009, she was chosen SI.com’s Cheerleader of the Week.
That same month, she attracted more national media attention but for a far different reason. Following the Ducks’ dramatic double-overtime win over Arizona in Tucson, Johnson was struck in the head by a water bottle thrown from the stands. Others, including Duck players and coaches, had bottles and batteries flung at them. Johnson fell unconscious and was hospitalized with a concussion.
“It was a big deal at the time because we didn’t know if the cheerleaders were being targeted or someone was just throwing stuff in the crowd,” Johnson told yahoo.com earlier this year.
Today, she waxes philosophically about that night in the desert.
“My lesson from that incident was don’t sweat the small stuff,” she says. “I know that no one intentionally meant to hurt me. Accidents happen when you put a die-hard college football fan in an very good game atmosphere.”
In an interview with me this week, Johnson answered some serious and not-so-serious questions on her days at UO, her new career and the state of college football. Answers have been edited for clarity and length. Here is what she had to say:
Q: What is your best memory from your days as a cheerleader at Oregon?
A: The games. We worked so hard during the week at practice and just being able to perform in front of 60,000 people was the most rewarding experience of all. Working as a team to touch the community, the fans, and the brand of ‘the Oregon Ducks’ was amazing.
Q: What’s the most shocking thing the Duck (the mascot) ever told you?
A: The Oregon Duck doesn’t really ‘talk’ … He just loves his Oregon teams. The best thing he ever did was sneak in a few kisses on the sideline. Hey a girl can dream, right?
Q: How would you evaluate your performance so far on Foxsports.com’s The College Experiment? What’s been the most difficult thing to master?
A: I am so glad cheerleading gave me the confidence to be in front of a camera. The most difficult thing to master is not making a fool of myself. … You have to be pretty ‘on point’ with this job. However, if I am myself and laugh when I trip up, it usually makes out to be a good piece because more people can relate.
Q: SI.com named you cheerleader of the week in 2009, and you’ve been featured photographically on other websites as well. But one of your most famous shots is the one with you wearing football pads on your shoulders. Where did the idea for that shoot come from?
A: The photographer that I was working with at the time said, ‘Let’s ‘boom’ out a piece that describes you … something with your work but still sexy.’ I replied with ‘Well, let’s do it!’ That’s when our creative side took over. I love modeling because it allows me to be creative and … in this photo, I can kinda act rough and tough.
Q: What’s the craziest venue you’ve been outside of Autzen?
A: The 2011 BCS National Championship Game. The game was crazy loud and crazy close. And even more crazy was the fact I couldn’t really cheer out loud for my team. I was just so excited to be able to be on the sidelines.
Q: Should college football players get paid (in addition to their academic scholarship, housing and food)?
A: Only if the check said ‘college athletes’ and not just football because I know first hand we all worked extremely hard. However, if I had to give a straight answer right now, I’d say no.
Q: Should the NCAA enact a national playoff system for football?
A: Yes, there are too many good teams out there to have only two teams play for the national championship.
Q: Chip Kelly likes to — well, let’s say, give the media his best shot. Is there a softer side to Chip?
A: Chip is a great coach and a great mentor. We obviously saw last year he can handle his sport … and his team. I am looking forward to this year’s season.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Ducks’ chances this football season?
A: I always have high hopes. Those boys just need to keep their head in the game and away from what’s going on outside the game. I have high hopes they will bring home the big one.
Q: You’re the quarterback for the Ducks and you’ve got the team on USC’s 20-yard line with 2 minutes left in a 31-31 tie. Who do you want with you in the backfield? And who do you want on the field as wide receivers?
A: I want a supporting cast with great ball security that will set up a game-winning field goal.
Q: What do you want to be doing 10 years from now?
A: I just hope to be happy and successful within my career and within my close relationships. Whether or not my goals include a family of my own, my work, or neither of those … I just want to be happy.
Q: Who do you most admire?
A: I admire my mother because she is a big part of why I am the way I am. She taught me at a young age to be myself and not to care what people think of me. The ones who matter the most will stay close and the ones who don’t will fall flat. Be yourself. Love yourself. The rest will fall into place.
To catch Katelynn Johnson this season on Foxsports.com, visit The College Experiment show at http://msn.foxsports.com/video/shows/college-experiment. To follow her on Twitter: __katelynn__
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