Michael Johnson holds camp

Published 9:38 pm Saturday, April 22, 2017

Boys and girls filled Memorial Stadium Saturday to train in football and cheerleading with some of the sport’s leading athletes.

The eighth annual Michael Johnson Football and Cheer Camp provided the young athletes will invaluable experience as they worked with players from all over the country and coaches from right at home.

“There’s a lot of experience out here being passed on to these young kids,” Johnson said. “I tell them to take advantage of the opportunities they have to be around us, ask us questions and learn.”

Email newsletter signup

Johnson is a Dallas County native who graduated from Dallas County High School in 2005 and went on to play college football at Georgia Tech and was later drafted to the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009. After a short stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Johnson returned to the Bengals.

Johnson had several current and former teammates as well as some local friends and coaches to help him run drills and work with the boys.

Carlos Dunlap of the Cincinnati Bengals, Jeromy Miles of the Baltimore Ravens, Cordaro Howard with the Buffalo Bills, former New England Patriots player Gary Guyton and several other star athletes made the trip to Selma for the camp.

Clinton McDonald, an NFL defensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has been participating as a coach for the camp since it started in 2009. The teammates were drafted together in 2009 and as rookies on the team, quickly became friends.

“Through that time, we built a friendship and through that friendship I built a brotherhood with Michael Johnson,” McDonald said. “It’s amazing to see a man mature into a young man into a full-grown man and … coming back and giving back to his community in the way that Michael Johnson does is very impressive and it’s very humbling.”

Johnson has continued to give back to his community in various ways since being in the NFL and said working with the youth that now walk in the shoes that he once did is important to him.

“I didn’t have pro and college athletes coming and talking to me,” Johnson said of growing up around Selma. “I want them to be able to learn from my experiences. I’ve been coached by great high school, college and pro coaches and now the information that I’m telling them is just like it’s coming from the coaches, it’s just coming through me.”

Talking to the boys following the first half of the camp, Johnson told them to work hard, listen to their parents, coaches and teachers and to have good behavior as they prepare for the future.

“You have to work hard in everything you do. You can’t work hard in one area and not work hard in something else,” Johnson told the boys.

“Having a good attitude and being positive and everything, it will really go a long way in your life.”

Johnson told them to keep God first and work hard to accomplish their dreams.

“Always stay prayed up and keep God first in whatever you’re doing and just know that if you just always keep working, and stay positive, something good is going to happen,” Johnson said in the huddle. “It aint about how you start man, it’s about how you finish.”

As the camp came to a close, the boys made their way over to the stands to watch the girls perform a cheerleading routine. As one young boy walked by Johnson he said, “Michael Johnson, you’re my favorite player,” in a very serious but appreciative way.

That’s not exactly uncommon for Johnson to hear, especially when he’s in Selma, but that didn’t make it any less special for the 6-foot-7-inch 272-pound defensive end.

“I know everywhere I go, I’m an example, I’m a role model for the kids and especially in my home town,” Johnson said. “I come from here and I lived here. They have dreams and aspirations and they look to me as a leader to be doing the right things. It makes me feel good when they talk to me and they tell me they’re rooting for me and watching. It just gives me more encouragement to keep on doing my best.”