He played 1951-1953 College Football as a halfback for the Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame and received in 1952 and 1953, the Maxwell Award and the 1953 Heisman Trophy for the best player. This makes it next to Tim Tebow currently the only college football player who was twice awarded the Maxwell Award, and the fourth Heisman winner in the history of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
In the 1954 NFL Draft, he was in the first round obligation of the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he played only one season, however. He then came 1955, in the United States Air Force, where he was during a football game drew upon a serious knee injury. In 1957 he returned to the Pittsburgh Steelers, ending his career but after a training camp due to his knee problems.
Johnny Lattner was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979.