For Drake Johnson, today was slated to unfold like any other day off from school; sleep in, homework, then football practice. That plan, however, was disrupted in the early morning hours when his mother began phoning him frantically about a development that would change his young life.
“I was asleep and my mom called me like five times, and finally 8:22am rolls around and I was tired hearing my phone ring,” Johnson recalled. “I called my mom and was like, ‘mom, why are you calling me?!’ She was like, ‘you need to answer your phone right now! Coach (Fred) Jackson is trying to call you. Call him now, it’s important!’ I kept calling him on his cell phone and couldn’t get through. It kept going to his voice mail. Then she said to call his office number. I called that once and he wasn’t there. So I called my mom back and said, ‘mom, I can’t get ahold of him.’ Finally she said, ‘call him at his office one more time... he’s there now.’ I called him again and finally he answered.”
The nervousness born of the possible fulfillment of a lifelong dream began welling up. For years Johnson had envisioned himself as a Wolverine and Jackson had been instrumental in making that picture all the more vivid.
“I’ve known Coach Jackson my whole life,” Johnson explained. “He used to come to my little league football games and say, ‘I’m going to get you to play at Michigan.’ I was like, ‘oh whatever.’ I was just eight years old and he was saying you’re going to play tailback for me one day? But he has been telling me that for like eight years. He has always been sort of like my coach in football even though I’ve played for other coaches.”
This morning Jackson informed the Pioneer standout that he wasn’t satisfied with being the youngster’s “sort of” coach. Next year he wanted to begin being his actual coach.
“The first thing he said (on the phone this morning) was, ‘aren’t you supposed to be in school?’” recalled Johnson. “I said, ‘I have the day off… I’m trying to sleep.’ So then he says, ‘you always wanted to play at Michigan, right?’ I was like, ‘of course.’ He said, ‘you know I always wanted offer you. If I offer you right now, would you commit right now?’ I said, ‘of course I would. I’ve always wanted to go to Michigan.’ He was like, ‘are you sure you want to do that? Are you positive?’ I said, ‘of course I would!’ Then he said, ‘well I was calling to offer you a scholarship to Michigan.’ I was like, ‘what?! You’re kidding right?! ‘ He said, ‘no I’m being entirely serious. Are you sure you want to come here?’ I said, ‘of course I do!’ And that’s pretty much how it went.”
Johnson’s feelings afterward ranged from excitement, to relief, to satisfaction. Three short months ago with just Eastern Michigan offer to his credit, his collegiate path was far from clear.
“Before this year I always kind of skated by because I was more athletic than people,” he admitted. “Finally (during the offseason) I was like, ‘I’m not going to just be able to skate by if I want to be good this year. I need to get a scholarship for college. Michigan always says they’re interested, but maybe I’m not putting enough effort into it. So I said this summer I’m going to hit the track hard, hit the weights, and I’m going to put the effort in so that I’m so good that they have to take me. Then I started working out harder and got a lot better. Knowing that everything I did this summer has paid off and all of this anxiety has come to an end just feels great.”
“My goal is to go to Michigan and someday win a starting spot and fulfill the dream winning a national championship there. If you don’t dream big, what are dreams worth?”
Johnson’s Michigan commitment comes a few days after he racked of 348 yards and four touchdowns on 36 carries in Pioneer’s district title victory over Temperance Bedford. It was Johnson’s third 300+ yard rushing effort of the season. He also has four other efforts of 200+ yards rushing. All told he has run for 2757 yards and 38 TD's (37 rushing). He currently is 133 yards away from the state rushing record with a vaunted Detroit Catholic Central defense standing in his way.
“They’re good,” said Johnson of his upcoming playoff foe. “They live up to their hype. We’re kind of like the David to their Goliath if you know what I mean. This year everyone expects us to lose. It’s motivation.”
That bodes well for the Pioneers since Johnson has already shown that with him, a little motivation goes a long long way.
Johnson is also a highly regarded track athlete and is the reigning Division 1 110m hurdle champ in Michigan with a time of 13.73. On the possibility of running track at Michigan: “I haven’t (talked to the football coaches) yet, but I’m going to try to see if they will let me work out a deal on track. I’ve never talked to the track coaches.”