“He is our boy; I get it and I am willing to share,” said Lacreasha Johnson about all the attention and adoration her son Tyler Johnson is getting from Twin Citians who remember him when. Johnson will be playing in his first Super Bowl in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. “We are excited. It’s unbelievable! It’s beyond our wildest dreams more than what we expected,” said the proud mother.
Hollywood couldn’t have crafted a better script. Johnson was drafted in the fifth round of the NFL draft out of the University of Minnesota. He’s a former quarterback-turned-receiver from a school—Minneapolis North High—that almost did not exist. Now he’s going to the Super Bowl in his first year on a team that includes one of the players he looked up to: Tom Brady.
“I feel the pride of Minneapolis big time,” Tyler Johnson said, relating that he is reminded every time he gets a notice on his phone. “It’s wild; it’s unreal. I get a lot of love and support from my community.”
Johnson has become a Minneapolis feel-good story, the hometown boy who made good. Beaming with special pride are all the folks who helped make Johnson’s ascent possible, the folks who fought eight years ago to keep the school open; and the coaches teachers, neighbors and friends, and relatives who encouraged him. But proudest of all are his parents Lacreasha and Tyrone Johnson.
Supportive parents and nurturing community
Lacreasha said her son used to give her a hard time growing up because she wasn’t very familiar with football jargon. “He still does,” she said, “because I still don’t know what different positions are and a play that he did. He jokes around with me about not knowing anything, but I know his number when I see him out there and I know when something good happens!”
On the other hand, father Tyrone was quite knowledgeable about football and his son’s football prowess, even helping coach his son in his early days. The elder Johnson said he wasn’t surprised by his son’s success. “I believe in God; anything is possible,” he said.
“My son was playing quarterback [for what] seemed like his whole life and to switch to receiver with the Gophers says something about his dedication, continued Tyrone. “I am proud of him. He has worked so hard and even been a good role model,” said his father, who pointed out that he had a bit of adversity early in the season as he battled an injury in training camp.
“It seems like he has been doing this forever,” said Tyrone of his son’s football prowess. He added that Tyler’s success dates back to his days playing Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board football at McCrae Park in South Minneapolis.
Tyler eventually began playing at Phelps Park, as his father—with the help of a local pastor Jim Harbur—established the first football program there around 2007. The elder Johnson said that while at Phelps, his son developed while playing against better competition in the North Suburban league of the Twin Cities.
When he was ready to enter high school, his parents made a choice that was controversial at the time but ultimately added to the Tyler Johnson legend. They chose Minneapolis North High, which had been threatened with closing by the Minneapolis Public School system in 2010, and had only been saved by the dedicated protests of former alumni, activists, and community members, which caused the district to reconsider.
“I felt like North would be more like a private school because of its smaller size,” said Tyrone. Sixty-five freshmen entered the new North High in the 2012-2013 school year. “I felt like he had an opportunity. He could play varsity as a freshman and get a good great education,” he said, laughing at the irony of his son having a successful football career and getting a good education from an inner-city school that almost ceased to exist. Tyrone admitted that he and LaCresha initially considered sending Tyler to Holy Angels or Hopkins High.
Lacreasha recalled that after her husband said he had a good conversation with one of the counselors at North High he was sold on the school. ”I remember my husband talking to me and Tyler saying this is the way we are going to go; we are going to stay in our city. We are going to stay in our community,” she said.
Tyler was a two-sport star at North High school starring as a quarterback in football and guard in basketball before earning a football scholarship to the University of Minnesota.
While at North High, Tyler was coached by the same offensive and defensive coordinators Londell Anderson and Marcus Nolan from Phelps Park who were hired to help coach the revamped football team.
A near fairy tale season
Lacresha admits she didn’t know much about Tom Brady. “I had heard his name before but I didn’t know what the big deal was. I would just go ok, yeah,” said LaCresha about Tampa Bay’s legendary quarterback. “Now that I know he is great. I am overjoyed that Tyler is on the same team.”
In an interview this week, Tyler said that when he saw Brady for the first time, he was a bit awestruck. He said they had a long and hard work out. As fate would have it, Tyler helped Brady break a passing record in the seventh game of the season.
Tyler did not see the field as much as he would have liked to this season but is serving a kind of apprenticeship as he learns from All-Pro receivers Chris Goodwin, Mike Evans, and Buccaneer’s late edition Antonio Brown. “Coming in, I didn’t know what to expect. It taught me to be patient and stay hungry,” Tyler said.
However, he did have an impact. He had a huge catch where he caught the ball going away from his body on a 3rd down and 11, late in the game against New Orleans in the divisional championship. And he was the target on the interference call that allowed Tampa Bay to ice the game against Green Bay in the NFC championship game.
Peter King of Pro Football on NBC Sports said earlier this week that Tyler is an under-the-radar player who could have a big impact on the game Sunday. King noted that “Tom Brady has had a huge amount of trust in Johnson late in the season.”
“That was unreal to see Brady’s career end up in Tampa Bay and they take [draft] my son. It’s like fate. It’s a blessing,” said Tyrone.
The elder Johnson predicts a 42-41 Tampa Bay victory.
Tyler is hoping he can deliver to his mother, who celebrated a birthday on Friday, a belated present with a win on Sunday.