Cardinals running back David Johnson helps lead the Hyundai Youth Football Camp at Arizona Sports Complex on Thursday.
David Johnson was the main attraction at a Hyundai Youth Football Camp on Thursday afternoon.
The Cardinals running back moved from station to station at the Arizona Sports Complex, helping hundreds of kids aged 7-to-13 with the fundamentals of football. During breaks in the action, he took to a microphone, imploring them to get good grades and listen to their parents.
Johnson looked like a natural, and there's a reason why. The NFL was always his dream, but for a small-time recruit heading to Northern Iowa as a freshman, it was certainly no sure thing. There needed to be a realistic fallback option.
"I actually went to college to be a teacher," Johnson said. "I always wanted to be with kids. I always wanted to help kids learn and I always wanted to help kids grow. That's always been in my head, since I graduated high school, to be inspirational to kids, to be a role model to kids."
Johnson planned on becoming a P.E. teacher if football didn't work out. He's always been an active person and was hoping to change the outlook of kids who were naturally more sedentary.
"You see so many unfortunate kids getting obese or bigger, and I wanted to change their mentality," Johnson said. "Make it to where exercise is fun. You hear with sports that running is a punishment, that running laps is a punishment, and I wanted to change that mental aspect about exercising."
While Johnson isn't a teacher in the traditional sense, he now has a big platform and some cachet, and believes the lessons he imparts can be meaningful. He's been told, through social media or face-to-face, of the effect he's had on kids he has spoken with, how they are listening better and getting better grades.
"That's the stuff I love to hear from the parents," Johnson said, "that I have impacted their child's life."
Johnson knows some high-profile athletes will attach their name to an event but be nearly invisible when it arrives. He's the polar opposite, open and engaged throughout.
"It's important to show them that I'm a person, that I have fun and that I'm a person they can talk to, that they can hang around," Johnson said. "I don't want to be that person who sits back, that they don't even realize he's there because he's on his phone all the time. I don't want to be one of those guys. I want to interact with the kids, be there for the kids, have some fun. Just hang out with them."
Johnson still remembers fondly the football camps he attended as a kid, and those were just with the local high school team in Clinton, Iowa. He smiles when asked what a young David would have thought about meeting his NFL idol at an event like this.
"Oh, man, if I went to an Emmitt Smith camp, I probably would have been like some of these kids," Johnson said. "They just stand there, they don't talk, they're really shy – that starstuck, jaw-dropped type of feeling. That's how I would have been. Hopefully this means a lot to them, because I love doing this."
Images from the Hyundai Youth Football Camp in Glendale on Thursday afternoon