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August 25, 2005

Man of the house

The recruiting process can be hectic for many of the nation's top high school football players. They have to sort through numerous offers and try to figure out where they're going to spend the next four years of their life. Four-star defensive end/linebacker Micah Johnson, the nation's No. 32 overall prospect, has handled the attention well, but now has a new set of circumstances to deal with.

Johnson's father, Micah's mentor, friend, parent and biggest fan is Lt. Col. Skip Johnson (Cmdr. 3rd Battalion 187). Col. Johnson is scheduled to deploy to Iraq in the near future.

"Sometimes I feel a like I'm stretched a little thin with my responsibility to my family, but my family has been right there beside me throughout my entire career," Col. Johnson said. "Because I have a close knit family, it's going to be difficult to be gone for a year."

Indeed when Fort Campbell tees it up against Fort Knox in the "Army Bowl" on Friday, it could be the only game of the year he sees of his highly-touted son's senior season.

"I've been here to see all three of my sons graduate, this one will be tough."

Col. Johnson has talked with his family about his deployment.

"If I'm in town, I'm at the game," Johnson said. "I've always been there for him and I think he's handling everything well. I'm sure when I leave, it will probably dawn on him that, 'hey, Dad's gone,' but I think he'll do just fine."

Micah Johnson is prepared for his father's absence.

"Probably, the biggest thing getting to me is that it's my senior year," Johnson said. "After him watching me through my whole career and it just now being at my senior year, it's hard. That will be the hardest thing and other than that it will be tough in trying to stay strong, not think about it as much, and have a good season."

Col. Johnson has told his son to continue to achieve.

"My advice throughout a number of conversations is stay focused," Col. Johnson said about talks with his son. "You've got to prove a point, you've got to have fun, and you only get one senior year. By the time I get back, I'll watch you in college.

"He already thinks he's the man of the house now, but him being the only one of my sons left at home with mom, he really is."

Regardless of how calm and collected Johnson is on the football field, there was some disappointment in his voice the first time his dad told him he'd have to deploy.

"He asked me, 'Dad do you really have to go?'" Col. Johnson said. "All the boys in my family and my wife are used to me being gone periodically though. In 1991, I was gone for the Gulf War and then throughout my career I've dealt with moving and changing. I think the boys are adjusting to change. They meet people easily and get along pretty good no matter where they are.

"He understands that dad has some responsibility and I think he's cool with that."

Col. Johnson is confident that Micah will be fine in his absence. After all, two of his older sons are playing college football, Christian Johnson is a freshman at one at Kentucky and Nathaniel Johnson is at Laney Junior College in Oakland, Calif.

"I'm proud, but proud is not a good enough word," Col. Johnson said. "We've been blessed as a family to not be distracted and the boys have done a good job of keeping things in perspective and staying focused. You look at the big picture, with their youth as a whole, and any father would be proud of their sons."

The star player has some plans to keep his dad in the know.

"I'm going to tell him to take care of his life and be safe to get the job done," Johnson said. "I'm going to be sending him clips and sending him e-mails about what we're doing. He's expecting us to take to state so that's what I'm going to do."

The high school students, both on and off the football team, at Fort Campbell all have gone through some sort of move, deployment, or other effects from living a military lifestyle. Several of Micah's teammates are even going through that situation right now.

"It's good like that because we're all going through the same thing," Micah Johnson said. "Some parents have deployed already so they can talk to us and tell us what to expect. We're going through the same thing by not having one of our parents here and we know that. It will bring us closer together as a football team."

Fort Campbell coach Shawn Berner has had to help his players through tough times such as deployments. He tries to be a figure that his young men can go to when and if their parents leave home and already has had some talks with his star player Johnson

"We definitely don't want to overstep the bounds but be there through that process," Berner said. "(Johnson) has got a good family and gets great advice from home, so that's easy on our part. We can intercept some things and do some things for the family. I think our job will probably be increased as his dad is gone and we can help him deal with how things will go."

Other Fort Campbell players will provide a level of support, too. Leonard Gordon, a Division IA prospect in his own right is planning on being there for Johnson.

"I have an uncle, he's stationed in Georgia," Gordon said. "He's been back and forth (overseas), so it's not the first time to be over there. We always talk about it when someone's father leaves. The parents are close to the team. Just last year one of our team moms passed away."

"So we're a big family here at Fort Campbell being at a base. It affects the whole team and we try to keep each other up when one person needs it."

Another teammate, athlete Orlando Misaalefua has a father in Iraq now serving and he feels that when things like this happen, the team seems to form a bigger bond than they ever had.

"When they leave, we get closer because we need someone to talk to someone about it," Misaalefua said. "When we get closer, we get better on the field because we're a family. We always have someone to talk with no matter what is going on in our lives."

During Friday's "Army Bowl," in which Fort Campbell will be looking for its second straight win over Fort Knox, the family bond is sure to motivate the team.

It will be a special atmosphere. A crowd of at least 5,000, of which a good portion will be soldiers and military personnel and their families, is expected.

"For a lot of players on the team, this is the last game the parents get to see them play," Johnson said. "It means a lot to be in front of that. It's another opportunity to showcase our skills."

While the size of the crowd will be impressive, however, one face will standout above all the others to Fort Campbell's standout player.

"I think this will probably be the last one I get to see before we deploy because of a bye the next week," Col. Johnson said. "To witness this one, especially if Fort Campbell wins, would be great."



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