Johnson takes Huge Step

June 11, 2009

by Kristin Gold

Senior men's basketball player Calvin Johnson has a big Saturday ahead of him. It's not a basketball game he's looking forward to, it's his graduation. A big accomplishment for any college student, but especially one for Johnson. The youngest of 11 children, Johnson will be the first in his family to graduate from a four-year university.

"I will be the only one, not only in just my immediate family, brothers and sisters, but it's nieces, nephews, aunties, uncles and their children," Johnson said. "I never knew I'd be the only one in my family to achieve something so great from such a prestigious school."

In the Johnson family, Calvin is the youngest, his brother Kendrick is a year older and then there's a 15-year gap between Kendrick and the youngest of the older nine siblings. With the large age difference Calvin had a lot of people to look up to and learn from.

"Life's been a struggle with my family growing up," Johnson said. "I've had the luxury, not that it was fun to watch, but I've had the luxury to watch the struggles of the other nine and learn from them. [They taught me] never give up, just weather the storm."

Growing up Johnson knew he had to leave his small hometown to achieve something great. Johnson is from Morton, Texas, a small town of 2,000 people, an hour west of Lubbock.

"We're a very small town where they have one stoplight, you a know a typical country town with the water tower with the town's name on it," said Johnson. "[For kids] all there is, is sports. As far as for older people there are not many jobs. You're either driving a tractor on a farm or you work in a grocery store. Living there, I feel, is tough."

About 55 percent of Morton residents have a high school diploma and only seven percent have a bachelor's degree, according to the United States Census. More than a third of all residents live below the poverty line. Since the 2000 Census, Morton's population has decreased and continues to do fall.

"It's not all bad, there are many positives to Morton." Johnson said. "People there are welcoming, loving, caring. Everybody knows everybody. But, as far as opportunity goes, there's not a lot."

Johnson has grown up a lot since coming to Santa Clara. He attributes his maturation to being so far away from home. "I can't just pick up and drive home when things get tough," he said. When adversity strikes though, Johnson relies on the support of his brother Kendrick, who is finishing up his junior year at Abilene Christian University.

"We try to drive each other, talk to each other, keep each other's heads on straight. I feel like I'm kind of the big brother to him, since he jumped around from school to school trying to figure out his place," said Johnson. "We keep in touch and make sure each other's heads are on straight and we're headed in the right direction."

The next direction for Johnson is to try to play basketball oversees and then go to nursing school. "I want to try and play first and establish myself financially," Johnson said. "[But] I'm going to go back to school, I'm going to be a pediatric nurse. I feel like that could be my way of giving back."

Those closest to Johnson think he'll make a great pediatric nurse. "He's definitely a people person, said John Bryant, Johnson's teammate and best friend. "You go into a room of ten people he's going to have ten friends by the time the night's over."

"Everyone that's ever been in a class or been his professor instantly loves Calvin," said Jason Stock, Academic Support Manager for the men's basketball team. "He always has a positive attitude and has been a great addition to Santa Clara."