By Camille Harrison
On a September afternoon, the Woodlawn High School football team is running through drills lead by their coach Gary Johnson. Johnson, 23, runs alongside his players as they do sprints. “You can go faster than that!” he yells, urging them on. The players pick up their pace glaring at the coach. He cuts them no slack.
Johnson played football for Virginia State and now coaches the Woodlawn Warriors, a high school football team. Like many college players, he hoped to play in the NFL after graduation. But like many college athletes, he did not. He was forced to choose a new career path. He chose to stay in the game– this time, as a coach.
“We all want to go the NFL or the NBA, but we all can’t go,” says Johnson. “Being here, I can help someone else get there. I mean it ain’t me but I’m satisfied.” Johnson is not alone. According to organization America’s Wire, only 33.1% of black men graduate college. Less than two out of a hundred football players of all races, play professional football after college according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
In addition to coaching high school football, Johnson also runs his own boot camp where he trains the general public as well as athletes. Some of his high school players are also in his boot camp. Johnson who graduated from Virginia State University in 2014, always had a back-up plan and it was still about football. Johnson was gifted in many sports like lacrosse and basketball but football always seemed to come out on top. He majored in physical education just so if there was a chance he wouldn’t make it to the NFL, he could still be involved in the field and help younger generations stay out of trouble through sports.
Johnson was Mr. Cum Laude at Virginia State receiving a 3.4 GPA before graduating. College had finally paid off for Johnson. “I feel good that I had enough drive to want to start my own business and get a job that I liked that involved football because I know there’s a lot of people with degrees with no job or a job they hate for real.” Even though sports are important to Johnson, he never let them get in the way of academics. Johnson was raised by parents who emphasized education. Tia Johnson, Johnson’s mother, describes him as “helpful” and “always there for his family.”
Johnson wants to keep young people out of trouble so they can have that enjoyable childhood like he did. “Where we’re from, it’s real easy to get caught up and end up locked up or dead. And you know, that’s bad because they didn’t even get to enjoy their futures and whatever else life has for them for real.” Johnson stands on the sidelines screaming terms like “push harder!” and “You can’t stop! Life don’t stop for you, so you got to keep going too!” The sweat drenched Johnson shows his team how to run through plays with a sense of satisfaction.