The Huddle: Turning loss into leadership

The huddle is a sacred place in football; one where the team and game are the only things that count. We’re going inside the huddle by talking to football players on the POWERADE FAB 50 teams to find out their most valuable lessons learned -- on or off the field -- that contribute to their success.

Senior running back Randy Johnson, Jr. of Norland (Miami) talks about how he has turned the passing of his father into a source of inspiration and motivation, a process that has also transformed him into a proud team leader. The shifty and speedy 5-foot-9, 190-pounder has committed to become a 'Cane at Miami and stay local.

Randy Johnson Sr. had left a major impression on his son, Randy Jr., before he died of Leukemia nearly four years ago when the younger Johnson was an eighth-grader.

"He supported me in everything that I do. He used to come to all of my games and he would watch me in in all of my games," said Randy Jr., now 18. "He would take me to all of the University of Miami games, also."

Randy Jr. has carried his father's memory with him ever since, to the point of dedicating his career to him posthumously.

"Before I play, I always say a prayer to him before every game," said Randy Jr., who is nicknamed "Duke."

"I pretty much just say, 'I know that you're watching me,' and, 'protect me while I'm out there playing for you,' and, 'I'm doing everything for you.'"

What Johnson has done is guide last year's Vikings to a Class 3A state runner-up finish on 1,500 rushing yards for 20 touchdowns, and this year's team to an undefeated start. This past weekend, Johnson rolled on city rival Jackson (Miami) for 213 yards and four touchdowns for his No. 20 POWERADE FAB 50 team.

"When something like that happens in your life, you just sort of live for them," said Randy Jr., of his father's death. "You live the way that you know that they would have wanted you to, pretty much."

For "Duke," that often means demonstrating by example the poise that it takes to emerge as a leader through adversity on a squad "with a slew of young running backs; a ninth grader and two 10th-graders."

"When they make mistakes, I try to encourage them. In our last game, the freshman fumbled, and he got down, and I had to encourage him to stay up, emotionally," said Johnson. "I never thought about yelling at him. You just pat him on the back and tell him, 'everything is going to be alright.'"

ROLE MODEL Cassandra Mitchell and Martha Williams, mother and grandmother "My father's death was tough at the moment, but you have family; my mother, my grandmother, my sister and my brother. My family as a whole. They've been there through all of the struggles that I've gone through. They're the reason that I do my best."