Since October of 2003, East Carolina senior deep snapper Britt Johnson has had the opportunity to do something that every person should be so fortunate to do at some point in life, live his or her dream. Johnson’s dream, for as long as he can remember, was to be a football player at East Carolina University.
«I have been an East Carolina Pirate for as long as I can remember. I am 22 right now, so I guess technically I have been one for about 19 years. After being born into such a strong East Carolina family, I didn’t have any choice and I’m very glad that I didn’t.»
Johnson’s parents, Don and Wanda, both of whom are ECU graduates, were carrying their son to ball games in Greenville long before he had any awareness of what was going on. Don was not only an ECU alumnus, but he had also been a manager during the extremely successful Pat Dye era.
The Johnson’s live in Rocky Mount, which is only about a 45-minute drive from Greenville. This has been a convenient place to call home through the years with as many trips as the family has made to the Emerald City. Britt loves his hometown, which he refers to as «The Rock,» but he also realizes how living so close to Greenville has benefited him as far as his family being able to attend his games.
His younger brothers, Will (19) and Grant (16), are both diehard Pirates, but they are also chasing their own athletic dreams. Will is a baseball player at Barton College in Wilson, which is about 30 minutes from Greenville, while Grant’s playing multiple sports for the Rocky Mount Gryphons. However, despite some conflicts, they are able to make most of their older brother’s games. This means a lot to their «older bro» and is something he definitely does not take for granted.
«It’s a great feeling on Saturday’s to look up in the stands and see my brothers Will and Grant decked out in their purple and gold and see them cheering and supporting me while I’m living my dream.»
Johnson also values the presence of his grandparents at his games, but more importantly the support they have always offered him.
«It’s also been great to see all of my grandparents at my games.»
Jack and Doril Henderson, his mom’s parents, haven’t missed a game.
«Since I’ve been on the team they haven’t missed a game and they also made sure that they joined the Pirate Club. They are, without a doubt, diehard Pirates.»
His dad’s parents, Donald and Mildred Johnson, are just as supportive.
«They have supported me throughout my entire life and followed all of my athletic endeavors. I am extremely grateful for that.»
This proximity to East Carolina has allowed the Rocky Mount native to only miss three Pirate home football games since 1987. Britt’s first memories of attending an ECU game are from that 1987 season.
«The first game I ever remember attending at East Carolina was in 1987 when ECU played Florida State. The thing that I remember the most was that I wanted to leave the game with 12 minutes left in the first quarter. My dad sure didn’t let that happen and I’m glad that he didn’t because I would never think of leaving a game early now.»
Following his graduation from Rocky Mount High School, the former Gryphon center and deep snapper knew that he was going to attend East Carolina to pursue his lifelong dream of playing football for his beloved Pirates.
Due to his lack of size, the 5-8, 223 pound Johnson knew his niche would be at deep snapper. After arriving at ECU, he went out for the team twice, but was unsuccessful on each attempt. Frustrated, the diehard Pirate contemplated forfeiting his dream, but he knew that he couldn’t quit because that’s not what Pirates do.
On September 30th, 2003, Johnson was attending East Carolina’s Tuesday night home game on ESPN against the Houston Cougars when he was presented with his opportunity as the result of an injury to the Pirates’ starting deep snapper.
«Brandon Howard, our long snapper, was hurt that night,» Johnson recalled. «We saw him limp off the field and he didn’t come back. After the game, I went and waited at the locker room and he told me he’d torn his ACL.»
«A couple days later, I walked up to Coach McManus’s office. He was the special teams coach at the time, but he was not in his office so I kind of swallowed hard and said to myself, ‘Well, I got to go to the big dog.’ So I went to John Thompson’s office and when I walked in I started to introduce myself and he said, ‘Britt, I already know who you are. We were about to call you.’
«He told me to show up at practice the next day ready to snap for him. I went out there and snapped and ended up dressing for the remainder of the season. I’ve been on the team ever since.»
While Johnson did fulfill his goal of making the team at ECU, might his experience in the purple and gold seem somewhat incomplete if he never gets on the field to play a snap?
«Not a chance. I’d certainly love to be able to snap next year as a senior if I get that opportunity, but if not, I can still walk away with my head held high knowing that I fulfilled my childhood dream. It’s just great to be an East Carolina Pirate.»
With Johnson’s senior season on the horizon, he reflected back on his fondest memory as a member of the East Carolina football team.
«Without a doubt, my favorite memory as a player was walking into the locker room before the Carolina game and seeing my jersey and pants sitting there in my locker, knowing that I was about to put on the jersey that I had dreamed of wearing my entire life. Putting on the jersey, running through the tunnel with the smoke and hearing 46,000 fans yelling their lungs out for you, it was a feeling like I had never experienced in my life.»
He can’t wait to experience that same feeling six more times before his playing days are finished.
Being such a diehard and lifelong Pirate, Johnson is bound to have some great Pirate memories-games, seasons, players-aside from his days on the team.
«My favorite memory as a fan, by far, was getting to experience the entire 1991 season and being able to watch the comeback in the Peach Bowl against NC State.»
«My favorite ECU player would have to be Jeff Blake. He is the first quarterback that I can really remember seeing his whole career. The quarterback that led ECU to the promised land in 1991!»
During his time at East Carolina, not only did he get to live his lifelong dream of being on the Pirate football team, but he also made many great friends through football, ones that he will never forget.
«My most missed memory will probably be not seeing the guys that I have seen everyday of my life for the last four years. Our friendships will last forever, but it just won’t be the same. I will also miss the feeling that you get on game day knowing that you are about to go into battle with your brothers, the feeling of knowing that you are willing to die for these guys on the field every Saturday!»
As Johnson’s time as a Pirate player winds down, he spoke about the future of the East Carolina program under the leadership of Skip Holtz.
«We’re a program on the rise,» Johnson said. «Coach Holtz is great and he has surrounded himself with a staff that is as good as any we have had here at East Carolina in a long time. Expect big things to start happening here. I just hope that everybody will jump on board and come on and get on the ship with us. It’s gonna be a fun ride.»
On November 11, 2006, East Carolina will host the Marshall Thundering Herd on Senior Day. One can only imagine the bittersweet thoughts that will be running through Britt Johnson’s head as he runs out into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for the final time.
«It’s going to be a very sad day for me. This is a day that I have been dreading ever since I got to ECU. Knowing that this will be the last game of my life is going to be very tough. I’ll probably be crying and just thankful for the opportunity that the Lord gave me to be a part of this program. I’ll kiss my mom, hug my dad, wave to my family in the stands, and then go get ready to beat Marshall! It will also feel good to know that this technically won’t be my last game at home because I plan on us hosting the conference championship game!»
Unfortunately this dream, as all dreams, will come to an end, but what a dream it has been! Britt Johnson doesn’t want to be awakened just yet though, as he hopes the dream he is living will conclude with his Pirates winning a bowl game.
When the dream does end, though, rest assured that this Pirate will be bleeding purple and sweating gold until the day he dies.