MADISON, Wis. (NBC 26) — Southern Door alumnus and former Badgers center Al Johnson couldn't be happier to be back in the Badger State.
"This is home. This is my first love," Johnson said of Madison and the University of Wisconsin. "This is the place that for me if someone asked what was the most important time in your life, I would say my time as a Badger."
"This is such a great honor and a great opportunity," he added.
Johnson is the Badgers new running backs coach, a job he and UW finalized in mid-March.
When he first got a text with an offer to come back home, he couldn't believe his eyes.
"I really just kind of put the phone down and drove a mile or so and really just thought," he said.
"And then I sent to to my wife and it was WTH," he laughed, referring to an internet acronym for shock and excitement.
Johnson was most recently in Oklahoma where he worked as the head football coach and athletic director at NCAA Division II East Central University.
He said he wasn't quite ready to leave, but as a former Badger himself - after talking with his family, he just couldn't turn the opportunity down.
"There was one point in the conversation we all just kind of looked at each other and said 'How do you say no to Wisconsin?'" Johnson said.
"You can't say no to Wisconsin," he beamed. "I'm so happy to be here. All in."
It wasn't easy. Johnson said he cried when he delivered the news to his former players at ECU.
Now in Madison, he's still getting to know his new group - but came in knowing more than you'd expect.
"Let's not forget, I was in Oklahoma, not Siberia," he joked. "I watched a lot of games. And so I know who we had in a sense. And so I still was always a Badger fan.
"Obviously I knew Braelon," he said, referring to Braelon Allen - the Fond du Lac native who took the state by storm with a phenomenal freshman season.
Johnson said he is thrilled to work with one of the best players in all of college football - but at times it can be a little nerve-wracking.
"There's moments where you feel like 'I can really help him with that,'" he said. "And then there's moments where you feel like dad let you take the Lamborghini out and you don't want to crash that baby.
"But at the end of the day the best part working with him is the fact that he always wants to be great," Johnson said.
After spending parts of nine seasons in the NFL, Johnson has now coached for nearly a decade. He started as the offensive coordinator at his high school alma mater, Southern Door. After that, he made stops at St. Norbert and Wisconsin - where he was a graduate assistant in 2016 and 2017.
After four years as the head coach at ECU, he now returns to Madison.