Appearing quiet and humbled, Tyler Johnson stood at midcourt prior to the scheduled game in Minneapolis North High School’s gymnasium last Saturday afternoon, January 4, as Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey presented him with a plaque proclaiming it “Tyler Johnson Day.”
Johnson was also honored at halftime by his former basketball coach Larry McKenzie. He was presented with a plaque as well as having his number 10 jersey retired. “No one at North High will wear no.10 again and its likely few would be able to wear it, because Tyler is one of a kind,” said McKenzie.
Johnson won the Most Valuable Player award at the New Year’s Day Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida when he wowed a national audience and likely increased his draft status with a record-breaking receiving performance. That performance included a touchdown catch that rated as one of the top plays of this college football season.
His dad, Tyrone Johnson, called it “the divine reception.” After Johnson’s Outback Bowl performance, Gopher Coach P.J. Fleck called him “the greatest receiver in the history of the University of Minnesota.”
The receiver and former North High two-sport star recently finished his career as the University of Minnesota’s all-time leading receiver. He was also honored by North High School at halftime of the game.
Johnson broke Eric Decker’s career receiving yards record with 3,304. He also broke Decker’s single-season receptions record with 86 and holds the Gophers’ single-season records for touchdowns (13) and yards (1,373).
After his record-breaking performance, his Northside community was obviously on his mind. He told MSR contributor Kenneth Foxworth that he was looking forward to coming home where “Everybody supports me and people are proud of me.” He even gave a shout-out to the North Side, saying, “Hats off to my community. I can’t wait to get around that love support.”
Johnson excelled both in the classroom and on the field as he led North High to state championships in basketball and football during his senior season.
“He was a key component to the school’s resurrection,” McKenzie said of Johnson, who was one of 64 original students to enroll at North during its revival in 2013. “When he chose to come to North, people followed him. They wanted to play with him.”
“A well-deserved honor for a great young man,” said Charles Adams, Johnson’s former football coach at North, while beaming with pride. “I am extremely proud of him. Adams and McKenzie further expressed admiration not only for Johnson’s accomplishments as a North Polar and Golden Gopher, but also his continued impact since graduating in 2016.
“He always keeps in touch with me and the players,” Adams said. “I would critique his performances in games. He would text and call after our games and show up [to games] whenever he could.”
McKenzie pointed out that despite his continued success at the collegiate level, Johnson has maintained a presence with current members of the boys’ basketball program and beyond. He has on occasion attended football practices to give encouragement to players.
“The players know who he is personally because he comes back whenever he can,” the Hall-of-Fame coach emphasized. “He spends a lot of time interacting with them as well as the community.”
Johnson, whom some observers predict as a first-round NFL pick at wide receiver, joins a long list of student-athletes who have made their mark on the Northside. These include former Polar basketball greats Ben Coleman, Brett McNeal, Khalid El-Amin, Derek Reuben, Mauri Horton and Tamara Moore, as well as Hall-of-Fame girls’ basketball coach Faith Johnson-Patterson.
On schedule to graduate this spring, Johnson joins other outstanding athletes from his Minneapolis North High class of 2016 who will also be obtaining their university degrees, including Edo Walker (Morehouse College), Jamil Jackson Jr. (IUPUI), and Patrick Dembley (University of Texas-Permian Basin).
“That [academic success] is just as important as Tyler’s athletic accomplishments,” McKenzie said while reemphasizing, “He was a key piece to the rebirth of North High School.”
Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kenneth Foxworth contributed to this story.
Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald is a contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.