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Raising A Rebel

Franchise Sports Media is proud to debut our new series, “Raising a Rebel.” We wanted to give perspective to the other side of a football player– just as important as their coaches–their families. UNLV “BUCK” linebacker, Malcolm Johnson’s mother, Toni, spoke to me about the idea last year and I immediately loved it. I agreed we should collaborate and make it happen. Toni is one of the best UNLV football follows on Twitter and has quickly become a huge voice with other Rebels’ parents and families. This is our first installment of “Raising a Rebel” with our guest writer, Toni Johnson.

Joe Arrigo

Raising My Rebel

Looking back through the years of raising my Rebel, Malcolm Johnson, the game of football has always been a part of his life and a great passion for him. He always has stars in his eyes and a big smile on his face when he talks about playing football.

He went from being a 2-year-old toddler on the field with his big brother and Dad at Pop Warner practices to now having his own practices at The University of Nevada Las Vegas. In between those years, he never needed much motivation from us to do what it takes to get to the next level. We saw in him the work ethic and dedication it takes to get what he dreamt of.

Many of you may not know the sacrifices that student athletes and their families make along the way in order to get to the next level. So let me share with you a little of our experiences on the road that led us to become a Rebel.

After a long day at work for us and school for Malcolm and his siblings, there were many evenings when the sun would set with the family at the park waiting for the end of football practice. Then there were the countless Saturday mornings spent at the parks playing a game instead of eating their favorite cereal, watching their favorite cartoons, or playing video games. We made it a family affair and we also used these times as teaching moments to show the children the importance of supporting each other.

Between elementary school and high school, Malcolm played several sports. He played soccer, football, volleyball, baseball, and ran track. He wanted to follow in his older siblings’ footsteps and play musical instruments as well, so he joined the band in Junior High School and High School and played 2 instruments. He also made time to complete community service and attended church regularly. He was always eager to be a part of a team and always gave it his all. Most importantly, he had fun doing all of it with us in tow. We invested in tutors, nutrition, trainers, training equipment, and travel to camps.

During his high school years there were the 5:00am alarms because he had to be at the gym by 6:30am for workouts before school. Then staying at football practice until 6:00pm or until the team got that play right. And yes, we were at every football practice at every level.

Beginning his freshman year, he spent his summers going to football camps. We would pack the car, hit the highway, and off we would go to a 3-4 day camp to learn whichever position his high school coach said he needed him to play for that upcoming year.

I remember at the beginning of his high school sophomore year, his varsity coach picked him to play Left Tackle. He was 5’11”, 180lbs, and had spent most of his playing years on the defensive side of the ball. I usually do not interfere with a coach’s decision but at this point I had to intervene to find out if this coach was trying to get our son injured or killed. The coach explained that he had watched our son in the weight room, he had watched him on the field, and he needed someone who understood the game to protect their quarterback and Malcolm was that someone. Of course, I was a proud mom but I was still scared for him to play that position. I began the season watching him play Left Tackle with my fingers over my eyes.

Well, we decided that if he must play this position he would either need the skills to keep him from getting killed on the field or we could just move to another city so he could go to another school. We opted to stay at the school, but we spent that summer at every offensive line camp in the Southeast US. When the season started, I eventually removed my fingers from my eyes, and during that season we played DJ Khaled’s song “All I Do is Win” quite often on Friday nights. His quarterback rarely hit the grass. He had time to release that ball and trusted their game plans because this little sophomore, not built like a LT, was fierce in protecting him. Our team went into playoffs with home field advantage and came within one game of state that year. It turned out to be a great football season, one of those that we will remember forever and often reminisce about.

Malcolm wanting to spend his summers at football camps meant no summer vacations for the family either because we all went to the camps with him.  We asked lots of questions along the way and by his senior year we knew the right questions to ask of the right people.

Because of his love for the sport and his dream of playing on the next level, he always kept good grades throughout his K-12 school years. He went to tutoring when he needed to and he burned the midnight oil doing homework, projects, and studying for exams. One summer, an NFL dietician came and spoke to his team about the importance of the type of food they put into their bodies. He took that information very seriously and changed his diet to eat the right foods. I went on the diet with him but not for long because I needed to work out in order for it to work.

We never had to warn him about hanging out with the wrong crowd. He choose his friends wisely. He would spend his leisure time with other athletes with similar aspirations and a work ethic like his own. He stayed away from drugs, alcohol, and the party scene.

The sacrifices we made as parents of a young boy who always had dreams of playing football on the next level are sacrifices and experiences we would not trade for the world. Sure, we gave up sleeping in on the weekends and instead of summer vacations at a beach resort we sat in a fold up chair in 100 degree weather and 70 percent humidity watching football camp, but it was all worth it. These Saturdays we get to watch him walk the “Rebel Walk” and then we get to sit in the bleachers of Sam Boyd Stadium watching him live the dream that he worked so very hard for. If we had to choose to do it all over again, I would jump at the opportunity.

See ya’ll at the Rebel walk!

Toni Johnson