Former Iowa State star pursuing dreams of Food Network show

ISU cornerback Leonard Johnson defends a pass to Rutgers receiver Brandon Coleman in the first half of the Cyclones’ Pinstripe Bowl matchup with Rutgers. The incomplete pass led to a third down, and the Scarlet Knights would eventually score on a one-yard touchdown run from Jawan Jamison that would put them up 7-6. Rutgers went on to win 27-13.

Austin Anderson

At just 7 years old, Leonard Johnson opened his fridge and saw basically nothing. His friend’s house, on the other hand, had a fridge that was stocked full with food.

Johnson watched his older sisters and mom cook at home, so despite only being 7 years old, he knew his way around the kitchen.

“I would go to [friends’] houses and experiment and the food came out pretty good,” Johnson said.

His reputation grew around his neighborhood. Some days he would stand on the corner and wait for his friends to bring food for him to throw together. They would walk a mile and a half with a carton of eggs just for Johnson to use. Another friend would come from the other way with hamburger meat and bacon to grill.

“I’m just the dude on the corner waiting to cook all the food,” Johnson said. “I would get together with these guys and we would just cook. We were 7, 8 years old.”

His cooking carried to college at Iowa State, where he started 43 games for the Cyclone football team.

“I did a lot of cooking here, man,” Johnson said. “It was funny because I had no money. A lot of people would be like, ‘Hey, man, come over. I’m going to go to the grocery store, let’s go shopping. I’ll buy, you cook.’ I’m just like, ‘All right, cool.’ I always made sure they bought enough for me to cook for at least two or three days.”

Johnson lived at a small apartment on Welch Avenue, and dinner guests found their way over often. His signature dish was a spaghetti, which doesn’t sound like a big deal until he reveals he let the sauce and meat cook for two days, layered with shrimp and other seafood.

“A Florida touch,” Johnson said.

The spaghetti was the meal of choice for when Johnson had his position coach, Bobby Elliott, and Elliott’s wife over for dinner. The spaghetti was joined by a gourmet chopped salad.

“It was hard for coach to make it home that night,” Johnson said. “Good thing his wife was there because he was too full.”

Johnson went undrafted in 2012 but was signed immediately by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He spent four seasons in Tampa before playing for the Patriots and Panthers and eventually signing with the Buffalo Bills for this upcoming season.

With the Panthers, Johnson developed a friendship with quarterback Cam Newton.

According to a story on ESPN, Johnson lived in a hotel for two months after being signed by the Panthers. He craved a place to call his own; he missed having a spot to cook. He asked teammates if he could cook for them and some accepted. One of those was the former MVP, Newton.

Johnson went into Newton’s home and cooked up salmon stuffed with lobster, scallops and spinach with a honey spice sauce.

Cooking has been a staple in every stage of Johnson’s life so far. That trend will continue after Johnson’s football days are over.

He said he’s had talks with the Food Network about a potential show.

His show, which could potentially go by “Behind the Helmet,” would have Johnson cooking beside other athletes, giving them a chance to share their stories.

“I’m kind of letting them tell their story about what they’re doing in the community and what they do on the field, and things they want to talk about throughout their career,” Johnson said.