North High School linebacker and running back, Andre Johnson, did not have an easy upbringing.
Johnson, his mother and his three siblings bounced between shelters for much of his childhood and dealt with abusive relationships.
“There were shelters in California and Arizona,” Johnson said. “It was a lot better than having a regular house because we always struggled when we had a house, not a lot of food, not a lot of anything.
“Going to school, I felt alone. I didn’t really make friends, I didn’t really do anything. It was less violence there. It felt a lot better being at a shelter than being at a regular house. We didn’t really experience anything bad there.”
Johnson first experienced football at age six playing with kids at a local park, but he was focused on playing basketball. When arriving at North, however, Johnson found his escape from his past on the gridiron.
— Mustangs Football (@north_mustangs) September 9, 2017
“When I’m playing football, I don’t think about (my childhood) and I get to be free,” Johnson said. “I feel like I’ve accomplished trying to be someone and (kids) looking up to me and being respected, and my hard work actually becoming something.”
Johnson never had a role model or a father figure in his life that pushed him to his potential. At North High, head coach Bernie Busken has helped to fill that void.
“I really like him,” Johnson said. “I feel like he’s been treating me good.”
The first time Busken heard Johnson talk was at the beginning of the season when Johnson came to him to tell him how much he liked his new position at linebacker from playing corner, Busken said.
“He told me how well he thought he was doing and that he thought he could do better and he needed to improve,” Busken said.
Busken and the Mustang football staff do what they can for Johnson.
“We try to be there and help him out when we get a chance,” Busken said. “He never asks for anything, he never complains, he never makes an excuse. We love him and he’s like he’s mine…They just don’t get any better than that kid right there.”
The Future is Bright
For his last season as a Mustang, Johnson plans to leave it all on the field.
“My hopes are to really do something, which I’ve never really had a chance to do,” Johnson said. “It’s my final chance to put the ball in my hands and actually play. Finally all this hard work I’ve been putting in, to see what it has come to.”
In 2017, Johnson has been a force on both sides of the ball for the Mustangs. He has 187 rushing yards and four touchdowns as a running back, and 20 total tackles as a linebacker in four games so far.
Johnson isn’t entirely sure where he will be heading after his time at North is complete, but he knows that he wants to go to a big college and have a career.
“I didn’t want to live this life,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to get out of it, so I just kept on working hard so I can get a scholarship to college. I’m good at math and science. I’ve got a good memory. I’m probably looking at engineering.”
Johnson’s discrete mathematics teacher, Rick Giliberto, said Johnson is one of his top students. Giliberto could see Johnson being successful in engineering, he said.
“He works hard and sort of takes a quiet lead,” Giliberto said. “He comes in, works the entire period and he’s very helpful to other students.”
Johnson’s drive to put his past behind him pushes him everyday. His advice to his younger-self, and to any kid who has had similar experiences, would be to keep pushing through.
“I’d tell myself that I’m just going to have very hard times in life,” Johnson said. “I’m just going to have to push through them and deal with them, and take all of that and it’ll make me a better person and it will make you stronger and to never stop working hard and keep going, keep moving to become something in life.”