Former Youngstown State football coach and current school president Jim Tressel always knew there was something special about Tim Johnson.
“He just had a glow about him,” Tressel said of his former player. “He loved life, he loved his teammates, he loved YSU and he always believed that we were going to win.”
So when Johnson called and asked if he would speak at his camp, Tressel had only one response:
Johnson, a 2010 inductee into the YSU Athletics Hall of Fame, hosted nearly 500 kids on Saturday at the Watson and Tressel Training Site on campus for his second annual Life and Skills Football Camp.
“It’s a neat thing, especially when it’s a guy like Timmy Johnson,” Tressel said Saturday afternoon. “I’m so proud of him and it was such a pleasure to coach him and he was just a special human being.
“I’m not surprised he’s doing something like this, trying to make a difference with others.”
This is the first year the Tim Johnson “Run for Fun” Life and Skills Football Camp is on YSU’s campus and it was the biggest turnout yet. Last year’s camp was at Austintown Township Park.
Saturday’s session with the North East Ohio Youth Football League was the last of a three-day schedule. The first two were July 12-13, open to the Steel Valley Youth Conference.
Johnson had a three-day total of nearly 1,000 campers.
“The most important thing is having fun and to get these kids on campus,” said Johnson, who played at YSU in 1999 and 2000. “We want foot traffic on the university. We want parents, coaches, kids all to come and see what we offer right in the backyard, so that going out to another school, another college, becomes less attractive of an opportunity.”
In addition to Tressel, former Penguin greats Ray Isaac (quarterback, 1988-91), Mark Griffith (kicker, 1996-99), Russell Stuvaints (linebacker, 1999-02), and Jamaine Cook (running back, 2009-12) were in attendance to help out with the camp. Isaac, known to most as simply “The Colonel,” quarterbacked YSU to its first national championship under Tressel in 1991.
“These are the great players of this university and when they’re called upon, they respond,” Johnson said. “And then to have everyone come together, that’s kind of our mission. Bring this Valley together, tighter than we already are.”
Johnson’s passion hasn’t wavered. Surrounded by hundreds of kids everywhere he went, the former first-team All-America linebacker couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. He put the kids through team and individual drills, while also relaying the importance of being successful off the field.
That was also the message Tressel delivered afterward.
“We’re very blessed to have guys like Timmy, and all these youth coaches taking time away from their own lives to make these young lives better,” Tressel said. “So first and foremost we have to live gratefully.
“And then the other thing is we have to increase our excellence in everything we do. It’s fun to do this — sometimes it’s not as fun to do biology or something like that — but we’ve got to work hard and get good at everything we do.”