The Huddle: Overcoming off-field obstacles

Miami Norland (Miami) running back Randy "Duke" Johnson scored five touchdowns to lead the Vikings to their first state title since 2002. Kynon Codrington/ESPNHS

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.

Star senior running back Randy "Duke" Johnson of FAB 50 No. 7 Miami Norland (Miami) discusses how he overcame adversity in life in order to succeed on the field and in the classroom. A 5-foot-9, 190-pounder, Johnson has committed to Miami on a football scholarship. A 3.0 student, Johnson wants to major in sports management with an eye on athletic directing and coaching. Earlier this fall, we profiled Johnson's path to stardom in the wake of losing his father to a battle with cancer.

Johnson helped fuel Norland's 38-0 win over Wakulla (Crawfordville, Fla.) in the Class 5A state championship game with 266 total yards and five touchdowns in the final. The 15-0 campaign ended in glory with the school's first state title since 2002.

But the truly inspired part of Norland's journey has been the obstacles Johnson and many of his teammates have overcome off the field.

"We have a lot of players on our team, me being one of them, who have had to overcome a lot of adversity at home and things like that," said Johnson. "We pretty much use the off-the-field things to help us to strive to get where we want to be."

One of Johnson's teammates comes home to nothing to eat. Others, to their electricity having been cut off.

"I have a teammate who doesn't have anywhere to stay, so he jumps from house to house, and that just drives him to want to succeed more," said Johnson. "There are a lot of struggles that people are going through, but they want to be great."

Johnson used to live in a rough area, but his mother, Cassandra Mitchell, was determined "to get him out of there," said Johnson.

"She has the same drive that I have, and she thrived to get us out of that neighborhood and to get us in a better situation. That was coming into my ninth grade year of high school," said Johnson.

The 18-year-old Johnson seeks to impart some wisdom to younger students enduring similar circumstances.

"Don't let the struggles hamper you; let them help you," said Johnson. "Let them be a reason that you want to succeed. Let them make you want to work hard, and to make the grade in class and to get to that next level so that you don't put your kids through that and you can help your family."

ROLE MODEL: Cassandra Mitchell, mother "Growing up the way that we did, she always made it seem like everything was good, but I was too young to notice. But as I got older, I started to realize that things were rough, but she helped other people. No matter what, she was just a very caring person. When people didn't have anywhere to stay, she would let them stay with her. She just kept a smile on our faces and on her face for the sake of myself, my sister and my brother."