Byron Johnson | New Orleans, LA
Former SELU Football Player
Written by Malik Brown
I was going to see Black Panther with my cousin, and when I went to see it, I saw the impact that it was making. People were really affected by the movie and kind of felt like God was picking me to try something new, but I really didn't think it was acting. A few weeks later, my aunt had sent me a casting call for an independent film in Louisiana and I ended up getting the lead two months later and had an agent. I booked my first thing out here in Atlanta, and had been doing it since then.
My whole family is pretty much from Louisiana. I grew up in New Orleans, and we all were in the same city. Growing up, it was my mom, my dad, and my younger sister two years younger. I experienced Mardi Gras and I was a Saints fan. We ended up staying there pretty much until Hurricane Katrina hit.
I think for me, Katrina taught me not to be so materialistic. At a young age you have life as you know it. You have a house, cars, all types of stuff, and then it gets taken away. You can get all of that back. We got another house, other cars, all that type of stuff. The year after that both of my biological grandfathers and my dad passed within that same year in 2006. I think it gave me an outlook on how to cherish the people that I have in my life.
During that time, I got rooted in my faith. When you get a chance to experience God for yourself, and you go through those trials and tribulations that kind of put you in the place where you have to actually live that out, it hits differently. So for me it did. I remember during that time really being rooted in my work. When my dad passed, I think more than anything I was at this place where I kind of gave myself an ultimatum like, you can either use this as a crutch, or you could use this as fuel to move you forward, and I chose it as fuel.
Football came by just playing at recess playing with my friends. I went to a certain school uptown New Orleans, and after that, I just started playing, and I liked it. I asked my mom if I could play and I’m still surprised she said yes, because even when I was in college, she didn't like me getting hit.
I had a good time at Millsaps College. Going back to my senior year of high school, I had played receiver for only one year. I grew late and was really trying to figure out the game. I didn't have a true position. Millsaps and another school were the only two that had offered me a scholarship. So when I went, there was an offensive coordinator and he just believed in me and gave me a lot of confidence. He saw a lot of things in me that I don't think a coach had really seen or let me know that was in there for me.
I was always a believer in betting on myself so that was something that I did always have, but sometimes we don't have the confidence to click with that ability, and that year kind of gave me that. When I decided to make that jump to go to Southeastern, it was a scary thing, just because when you’re walking on and you leave a program where people know you, you don't really know what's going to happen, but I really did have that faith that things are going to work out.
I really did believe in myself and trusted that the process would work out for me. What's crazy is I know a lot of guys who did walk on after that, and seeing the favor that I had in that position, it did show me that God was really looking out for me during that time. It also allowed me to know that I was tough enough to fight through for the things that I really wanted. If I had the will to work through whatever just to get to that place, I knew I could do it.
I knew that if I was getting a chance to go against the best players that this team had to offer and obviously kind of seeing what the team was becoming, which was a conference championship caliber team, I had to stand out against those guys and show the coaches what I'm made of. For me, it was going as hard as I possibly could every single day, and I really tried to make that just my MO. Nobody was going to outwork me. I might not be the most talented guy or the five star recruit, but there was not going to be a person on the team starting that was going to outwork me.
I remember one time that our game was going to be on ESPN, and I didn’t play particularly well the week before. I remember I called my best friend and I told him I was going to quit, just because of the ups and downs, being a walk on, and not feeling appreciated. It really started getting to me for like the past, like, month or two. He told me “You never know what God has for you, just stick with it.” I kid you not, I didn't think my coach knew my name. I walked into a special teams meeting and he was like “Is Byron in there?” I’m looking around, and at first I thought it was grades or something like that. I went to his office, and my receivers coach was there as well. He sat me down and said “I want you to know, we're going to put you on scholarship in January, is that cool?” I was like, “Oh, snap,” and I had this internal moment where I was just like, “God, I was about to quit 16 hours ago.”
One of the things that I'm most grateful for is I think what's allowed me to kind of transition even to this new field is that when it came to football, I know a lot of people who didn't really give their all. I gave it my all and I always could have peace in knowing that I squeezed every little bit of ability out of myself that I could, so make sure you're doing that, don't try to do it to be on Instagram for a post.
It’s going to be times where you feel like life is overwhelming or you feel like it's a lot. My friend told me “You can lay down, just don't unpack there.” That was a really important thing. I was going to have downtimes, but it was my family, friends, Jesus, you know, and the people that are closest to me that kept me going. That reminded me of my faith, that reminded me of what I stood for during that time.
Byron Johnson II, he's a believer. He is someone who really wants to make the world a better place in any way that he can. He's somebody who shows empathy towards people and to situations and really tries to be a light in every way possible.
I think I've found my purpose a long time ago. I think my purpose is to lead, motivate and inspire. I was doing it as a football player, coach, and now I'm doing it as an actor. I’'ve seen myself do the same thing in multiple ways, I think it's just the platforms that you get to do it. I think it's just understanding what that platform is at that certain point.
Watch Byron's Interview
Creative Direction: Nia Symone / Tyrone McClendon
Director of Photography: Scoot Took It
GFX & Video Edits by: Ethan Garner
Story Written by: Malik Brown