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49ers rookie never leaves without his football

  • Southern California wider receiver Ronald Johnson celebrates his touchdown during the third quarter against Penn State at the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game in Pasadena, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009. (AP Photo/Mark Avery)

SAN JOSE — Plenty of athletes are married to their sport.

Ronald Johnson? The 49ers rookie wide receiver takes his vows a step further.

Johnson not only eats, sleeps and breathes football. He actually sleeps with his football, a pigskin he, well, views like a family member. The word Johnson has scrawled on his football: Son.

"It sounds strange, but I have a relationship with the football," Johnson said. "I actually sleep with it. It sounds weird, but I do it. Just to get that extra edge everyone else doesn't have."

Johnson's dedication was a selling point for the Niners, who selected the USC wide receiver in the sixth round of the NFL draft.

Johnson's position coach at USC was John Morton, who is now his in his first year as the wide receivers coach in San Francisco. And Morton made a strong pitch for San Francisco to select a wideout guaranteed not to fail in the NFL due to lack of desire.

"There was an element of standing on the table for Ronald in the sense that the guy's all about football," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said after the draft. "The guy loves the game, loves practice. That's the best hours of his day is when he's out there on the practice field."

Not that Johnson minds the weight room. Ever hear of athletes doing workouts to strengthen their ... hip flexors? Johnson said he does those to increase his flexibility so he can "make the great catches" and "get the extra edge."

Johnson said he's routinely been up until 2 a.m. recently cranking out his daily regimen of 300 sit-ups and 300 push-ups (fingertip push-ups to strengthen his hands), studying his playbook (he said he's written so many notes that he can barely make out the plays) and, of course, playing with his football.

Johnson will throw his football behind his back. He'll toss it up, let it fall below his waist and practice snatching it by the nose with one hand — anything to make catching it become "second nature."

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