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May 20, 2019

We all have dreams. Go back to when you were five years old and think about what you wanted to be when you grew up. Maybe you wanted to be a superhero, or an astronaut, or a doctor, maybe a firefighter. If someone were to ask me what I wanted to be when I was five years old, I’m sure my response was “Mia Hamm.” Not a professional women’s soccer player, simply Mia Hamm. When I was five years old, the women’s national team had placed third in the 2003 World Cup with help from women such as Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, and Mia Hamm. Hamm was fierce, and at the time was the leading goal scorer on the women’s national team. Like most five year olds, I did outgrow this dream as my passions and interests changed.

This past week I got the chance to chat with Jahmir Johnson, an offensive guard at the University of Tennessee. Growing up Jahmir’s dream was to be a professional basketball player. His older brother was a basketball star, so naturally Jahmir’s dream was to follow in his footsteps. Fast forward to high school and all Jahmir wanted was to go to college for free. Unlike me, and most other five year olds, Jahmir did not outgrow his dream because he was sure he would receive free education with a basketball scholarship. Jahmir was athletic growing up. He played football, basketball, and ran track. While he started playing football at a young age, he decided to take a break once he began high school to focus on basketball. Coach Crosby saw a lot of potential in Jahmir and convinced him to play again his sophomore year. Jahmir still had his sights set on basketball, and was convinced football was not the route to take. Once Jahmir got hit hard enough to break a tooth he had no problem quitting the team. Coach Crosby still saw something in Jahmir and was not going to let his athletic ability go to waste. He was once again able to convince Jahmir to try football again his junior year. Jahmir only played five games his junior season, but had already managed to receive five D1 offers. After his junior year Jahmir realized he was not meant to be a basketball player, but a football player instead. Jahmir quit basketball to focus on football and never looked back. By his senior season, Imhotep Institute had gone undefeated and won the PISAA Class 3A State Championship, leading them to being one of the biggest recruiting classes in the country. Jahmir had committed to the University of Rhode Island, but entered into a season of doubt when he tore his ACL. He then left Rhode Island and found himself at Arizona Western, a JUCO in Arizona, nearly 2,500 miles away from home.

Ask a JUCO football player what their dream is, and the answer will most likely be to one day play at a D1 school in a power five conference (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12, or SEC). Ask the same JUCO football player what conference they dream of playing in, and the answer will probably be the SEC. Of the power five conferences, it can be argued that the SEC is the strongest in NCAA D1 football. In the past 20 years, an SEC school has won the national championship 11 times. The next leading conference? The ACC… with 5 national championships. The SEC has also provided great talent within the NFL. Take the 2019 draft as an example. Of the 32 first round picks, the SEC led all power five conferences with 9 picks. Why is the SEC so dominant? Perhaps because some of the greatest coaches work within this conference, including: Nick Saben, Jimbo Fisher, and Kirby Smart. This is what Jahmir’s dream was, and his testimony proves that dreams can come true. His story shows that our wishes will not just be granted to us, but that they require determination, hard work, and perseverance.

Jahmir only played at Arizona Western for one year, but he managed to impact the program tremendously. He was aggressive, but used his aggression in a positive way to make him a leader. Just his personality made his teammates buy into a system that would eventually lead them to a 9-1 season, and a national championship. He made the 2017 All-Arizona Community College Athletic Conference First Team, 2017 All-Western States Football League First Team, was a 2017 NJCAA First Team All-American, and ended his JUCO career as a 3-star recruit by ESPN, and Rivals, and 4-star recruit by 247sports. Most notably, he was also an ESPN JUCO Top 50 Recruit. Jahmir had success on the football field, but his time at Arizona Western was tough. He was far from home, and the time difference between Pennsylvania and Arizona was hard to get used to. He was forced to adjust his sleep schedule, meal schedule, and had to be very intentional about coordinating the different time zones to communicate with his family. The Arizona heat was also something Jahmir had to adapt to, and evening practices were something that he was not familiar with. Despite Jahmir’s obvious talent, even the recruiting process leaving Arizona Western proved to be difficult. While he faced many roadblocks during his time at Arizona Western, it all proved to be worth it when he found himself playing football at the University of Tennessee.

Jahmir was never promised a starting position at Tennessee, yet found himself starting all eleven games of the season. His toughness helped him become a successful lineman in the SEC. While the Volunteers record was 2-6 in the SEC East, they did manage to get upset wins over Auburn and Kentucky. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was also able to set a record for pass attempts without an interception with the help of protection from Jahmir. The Vols offensive line also managed to help lead the offense to over 500 yards against UTEP during the season. At the end of my conversation with Jahmir I asked him what some of his dreams are now. Individually, Jahmir hopes to gain 15 more pounds, get stronger, improve his mindset, and become a stronger leader. His dreams for the Volunteers? Jahmir had no hesitation when he said he hopes to be in Atlanta at the end of the season. However, his biggest dream is that by the end of his time at Tennessee he hopes to one day hear his name called at the NFL draft.

We all have dreams. However, having the dream is just the beginning. The work needed to fulfill those dreams is often what leads to discouragement and eventual defeat. Jahmir has shown that he is different. His determination has led him to becoming the successful football player he is. His leadership and attitude is strong enough to change whatever football program he joins. His leadership helps him motivate teammates on and off the field, and he does not lack any confidence in his abilities. Growing up, all Jahmir wanted was an opportunity to go to college for free. While he thought this was going to be as a basketball player, he managed to find a way through football. Now Jahmir wants a championship as a Volunteer. While he will have to face powerhouses like Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, he looks to the 2019 season with no fear and strict determination. Within the next couple years Jahmir wants to play football on the biggest stage, in the National Football League. He looks toward this goal as motivation to work harder each and every day. He has proven to be determined. He has proven that he is a hard worker. He has proven that his leadership skills are strong enough to change the culture of every football programs he joins. More than anything, he does not let fear of failure stop him from working toward his dreams. I look forward to the day where I hear “Jahmir Johnson, offensive lineman, University of Tennessee” announced in the NFL draft, because I have no doubt Jahmir will achieve his biggest dream.

Jahmir Johnson (JUCO to SEC): Work
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