Many parents will never understand what it is like to have a child play football at the highest level, win a national championship and move on to the ultimate dream of playing in the NFL.
For Harvey and Tabitha Johnson, the understanding of what it is like is all too real. As is the struggle that led them to the place where their son, Jadar Johnson, is today — with a national championship, a degree and a future in the NFL on the horizon.
The journey to get to this point was not always an easy one for the Johnsons. It was one that involved long nights on the road for Johnson’s father, a truck driver for Food Lion, paying for Jadar to attend the football camps that would ultimately lead him to Clemson.
“This right here is real big to me. I just want to take time to single this person out, because on my journey here it’s been kind of hard and so I just want to give a shout-out to my dad — that’s really like my best friend,” Jadar said at the Clemson national championship celebration. “He worked long nights, I mean long nights, some nights I wouldn’t even see him because he was out working so hard.
“And him having to work that hard just to put me in camps so I could perfect my craft and be seen by schools. I just want him to know that it didn’t go unnoticed.”
The speech meant more to his father than Jadar will ever realize.
“It feels amazing. That speech that he gave at the national championship celebration, I don’t like to cry in the public, but it made me cry,” Harvey said. “It made me very emotional, just for him to remember and just to think about the things that we did as a family, the sacrifices that we made. It is an awesome journey though, and if I had to make those sacrifices again, I would make those sacrifices and more.”
For Harvey, there was a moment in his son’s college career when he doubted whether Jadar would ever get the opportunity to have the kind of impact for the Tigers that he had last season.
Not because he lacked talent, but because Jadar was wanting to return home to Orangeburg and transfer to his hometown university, South Carolina State.
While the father in him hurt for his son, the husband in him did the wise thing — he listened to his wife.
“Actually, I was so confused when all of that was happening, but my wife she stood tough. She was like, ‘Jadar’s not coming back home. We don’t have money to pay for college. He’s going to college free and he’s going to stay at Clemson and he’s going to finish school,’” Harvey said. “It was more her, because I was getting ready to say, ‘Well, if he wants to do something different?’
“But listening to her, sometimes you gotta listen to your spouse. Listening to her I was like, you’re right, you’re right. We don’t have money to pay for college, so he’s going to have to tough it out.
“And now I don’t think I would have let him come home, but I was being more sympathetic than she was. She went to see him that next day and he thought she was coming to pick him up. She was like, ‘No, I just came to see you. You’re not going back home, you’re not going home.’ She left me at home and I think it was a good thing that she left me at home.”
It turned out to not only be a good thing for Harvey that his wife Tabitha decided to leave him at home — it was also a good thing for the Clemson Tigers.
Johnson blossomed in his senior season, being named first-team All-ACC (media and coaches). He was named one of six permanent team captains, shared the Tiger Pride MVP Award with Ben Boulware and Carlos Watkins, produced 65 tackles, five interceptions and seven pass breakups in 15 games started, including two game-winning pass breakups in the Tigers’ opening game at Auburn.
Those kind of numbers, and those kind of accolades, have Harvey confident that Jadar will not just make it to the NFL — he will be there for a while.
“The journey has been tough, but it has been real rewarding at the same time. He may not go in the early rounds, but I know, just like at Clemson, once he gets on the field, he will get a second contract,” Harvey said.
“He may not get drafted early, but he will get a second contract because he loves football, he studies football, he lives football. He has a lot to improve on, and the good thing about that is that he knows he has a lot to improve on.”
For a father and a mother, draft night will be filled with more emotions that one can begin to put into words — especially for a father living his dream through his son.
“For me, that’s going to be an emotional night because football is what I wanted to do. For whatever reasons, I didn’t even go to college, but it’s going to be so emotional because he’s not only living his dream, he’s living my dream,” Harvey said.
“For this to be happening, and he wanted this from 4 years old and always wanting to play Division I and then get on into the NFL, for that to be put into play so early in his life and now it’s actually happening, it’s going to be so emotional. Whether it’s first round or sixth round, it doesn’t matter, it’s going to be emotional.”
Whether a parent is trying to see his child make it to the NFL, become a doctor or just become the first in the family to graduate from college, there is one lesson that Harvey believes will always bring out the best in children — push your children and they will grow.
“The message is that if you make the sacrifices and stand behind your kids, they will grow. It may take some pushing — some of them you have to push more than others, but they will grow,” Harvey said. “When I hear him speak now, sometimes I don’t believe that he’s my son. There were times when he wouldn’t talk. He was just so shy.
“He was so shy that if you asked him a question, all you got was that direct answer. If it was a yes-or-no question — all you got was a yes or a no. Now he elaborates. When I hear him speak now I’m like, ‘God, is that Jadar?’ He’s come a long way, but if you make the sacrifices and you push your kids,you’ll get results.”