J. J. Johnson Thrives For Charleston Despite Odds Against Him
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Editors note: The following segment was broadcast on 5NEWS on November 13 and is re-printed with permission.
Jacob Johnson capped Charleston’s 31-6 win against Lamar with a 15 yard interception return for a touchdown.
It was the senior defensive tackle’s first ever touchdown but he didn’t get to hear the crowd roar or chant his name.
“When the guy dropped it and I caught it off of him. I grabbed the ball and everybody told me to run but I couldn’t hear them,” Johnson said. “I just found the ball in my hands. I took off running and I made a touchdown.”
“I couldn’t hear the crowd going J.J., J.J. and stuff like that, you made a touchdown.”
Johnson was born deaf.
Finishing the regular season 10-0 was expected for the Charleston Tigers. But that moment was the farthest thing from what was expected of Johnson.
“It’s hard because my parents thought when I was deaf, they didn’t know until I was three, I was just born deaf,” Johnson said. “After that they felt horrible because they didn’t know since I was disabled if I could do anything like play sports.”
“He’s been dealt some cards that a lot of people, that I haven’t been dealt and I can’t speak what it’s like to overcome that obstacle that he’s overcome but he’s excelled in every aspect in his life from the classroom to his personal life and it’s carried over to this football field and he’s done a marvelous job for us,” Charleston coach Greg Kendrick said.
Johnson can use a hearing aid during the day but is unable to while on the football field, which makes relying signals difficult. But that’s where Johnson’s best friend and fellow defensive tackle Garrett Conway comes into play.
“Me and J.J., we’re real tight. We do everything together,” Conway said. “We do have signs because of his hearing problems and he doesn’t always get the signs so I have to help him remember his plays and tell him where to go with hand signals.”
Conway has been there beside Johnson on the football field since they were lineman in the third grade. And that made Johnson’s touchdown return that much more special for Conway.
“It was unreal,” Conway said. “I was yelling at him to run. I didn’t know if he knew what to do or not and when he scored it was unbelievable.”
Johnson finished the regular season fourth on the Tigers defense with 67 tackles. But as a kid who is getting his first extensive time on the field, it goes to show what Johnson has overcome to get to this point.
“To see what he’s done and know what’s he’s come from, it’s a huge testament for that kid,” Kendrick said. “All our coaches are talking about our defense but when they talk about our defense, they are talking about him. He’s got a motor that goes and the word we use to describe J.J. is just relentless. He’s got a relentless effort in pursuit to the ball and just playing above what we ever pictured him and dreamed of him playing.”