To say that Derrell Johnson of Youngstown Cardinal Mooney High School has a bit of a new outlook on life these days just might not quite be an accurate enough assessment.
For starters, Johnson went from being the main man on a 1-9 team at Campbell Memorial last season to possibly being the main man on the defending Division IV state champions for this season. Johnson transferred to Mooney for the second half of the school year and he is now slated to take over the reins at quarterback, the same position that he played on offense last year, from Kyle McCarthy.
"He was a great quarterback and he's at Notre Dame now," Johnson said. "He did a phenomenal job at Mooney and I think it's a privilege to come in after him and I'm going to have fun with that."
Life is pretty good these days for Johnson. But it certainly wasn't always like that.
He had somewhat of a tough life as a youngster growing up with his mom on the East side of Youngstown. But Johnson befriended Steven Koulianos from nearby Campbell and started hanging out with him and the two became best friends. Eventually Johnson was living with the Koulianos family.
"They didn't want me to continue living in the conditions I was living in and they took me in with open arms, not even knowing about my football abilities," Johnson said. "They had no idea I could even play football. They just thought I was a great kid."
For about six or seven years, Johnson was like another son in the Koulianos family and a brother to Steven.
"He was my best friend. He never even played any sports," Johnson said. "We just hung out, we went on vacations together and they just took me in. And as time went on, we went through the process of being teenagers and now they're my real family, legally. They brought me in and then they adopted me."
And now Johnson has a whole new perspective on life, a new school and, more importantly, a real family to share it with.
"I feel really special and I'm really fortunate to have them. I don't think there's no one in the world greater than those two people right there," said Johnson pointing to his mom and dad, Dr. Anthony and Lauren Koulianos who attended the summer camp at Ohio State with their son. "Just who they are and what they stand for is just amazing, it really is. They'll do anything for me and they've done anything that could to help me. They're my parents now. I feel that my mom is my guardian angel and I tell her that all the time.
"Things are good right now. I'm just working on my grades and getting them up and improving them."
Academics could be Johnson's only downfall, if there is any, in the whole recruiting process.
"Right now grades are a factor but as time goes on I'm right there. And when it's time to make that decision things will be more clear and I'll be ready to go academically," Johnson said. "It's going to take effort. Steven is helping me with my academics and right now I'm enrolled in the Sylvan Learning Center in Youngstown, it's one of the best programs for ACT preparation, and so I'm in no worry right now."
Attending Mooney and going to the Sylvan Learning Center are just a couple of the many benefits his adopted family has afforded him.
"Yeah, they're making it all possible (financially)," Johnson said. "Just knowing I have them in my life now makes everything possible."
Accountability was the main thing lacking in Johnson's young life and it continued on into his early years in high school before the Koulianos family really got involved in his life.
"What happened was when I first went to Campbell I was on my own and I wasn't going to school and my mom wasn't pushing me to go, so my grades were really low. But as I got more involved with my new family, they got me to go to school and got me heading in the right direction and everything is going well right now."
For the most part, Johnson was going back and forth from staying with his mom to staying with the Koulianos family. He would try to go back with his mom for a while but things would just never work out.
"So we made it official around this time last year," Johnson said. "I would probably be a totally different person right now. I wouldn't be at this camp, I wouldn't be going to Cardinal Mooney and I probably wouldn't be playing football after high school so I'm really thankful for the family that I have."
Johnson did well for himself at Ohio State's camp. He was there for four days in all and got acclimated to the university in general and the facilities and the coaching staff at Ohio State in particular. At the one-day senior camp he attended on Friday, Johnson logged a lightning fast 4.08-second shuttle time and ran a 4.50-second forty-yard dash as a wide-receiver prospect.
"That's where my ability shows the most at." Johnson said. "I think I had a pretty good day here today."
Ultimately, Johnson would love to parlay his performance at camp into a real chance at being recruited by Ohio State.
"That would be a dream come true for me. This is every football player's dream (in Ohio) to play at Ohio State and be recruited by them," he said. "Right now I'm living in a fantasy and it's just an honor, an absolute honor. It would be a dream come true to come to Ohio State. It's a great school with a great tradition and it's got a phenomenal head coach right from the city of Youngstown and you want to play for that guy. It would be an honor to play for him.
"But wherever I play after high school, whatever happens, I'll love it and I'll be happy."
Johnson has definitely become a person of much interest from schools in the Big Ten, SEC, Big East and the MAC among others.
"I don't know where I'm going to go right now. It's just a matter of time until I'm able to weigh all my options and see where I fit in best," he said. "Right now I'm not really worried about where I'm going to college at. We're defending a state title right now so that's pretty much the task at hand and I'm focusing on that."
Who even imagined that Johnson would be talking about defending a state title this year after enduring such a long and losing season last year?
"Our goal is to win a state title at Cardinal Mooney. We're defending that and we're going to go for it," Johnson said. "Last year we went 12-2 and this year we're going to try to take everyone. We're going to take it week-by-week, day-by-day, practice-by-practice and we're going to work and we're going to get there."
You certainly can't blame Johnson for aiming high and trying to see just how far this miracle ride can take him.
"I'm dreaming big right now. I'm going to dream about playing at Ohio State and signing with them and at this time next year I'll be getting ready to play for them," he said. "But most importantly I want to get my college degree because I want to start a small restaurant business, that's always been my other big dream to do that. I just want to be financially stable and one day have a great family, just like them. I really adore how my parents take care of us and I think it's great."
The sky seems like the only limit these days in Johnson's brand new world.