In my journalism classes, they always tell us that the truth comes first. So before I explain to you how much this place means to me, I really have to come clean.
Originally, this was not the plan. Growing up, I never saw myself as a Buckeye. Being from Cincinnati, people assume that it had always been my dream to play at The Shoe. And I really wish I could tell you that I had my little Troy Smith jersey and my Ohio State franchise on NCAA Football and everything. But honestly, I didn’t even really watch college football like that. If anything, we were a Miami (Ohio) family. My dad played in the NFL, and he was still in my life at the time, so my only mission since I was five years old was to play in the league like him.
I’ll never forget, my mom took me to the ESPN Wide World of Sports camp when I was eight or nine, and I thought I was literally at the Youth NFL Combine. That was the first time I’d ever seen cucumber water, and I was telling my mom for months afterward, “Listen, I can’t be drinking normal water anymore. I need it with the little cucumber slices, like the pros.”
At the end of the camp, they gave us the free ESPN T-shirt and I was like, “I’m so elite, man. I really made it.” I didn’t realize until I was looking at the pictures years later that I was just at Disney World with a bunch of regular kids. I’m looking at this dude in the picture like, “Dang, he’s 85 pounds???” I really thought he was Little Peyton Manning. He was just some kid on vacation and I was out there trying to take his soul. Hahahah.
When I got to middle school, we had a family friend who was a walk-on at Alabama, and I got invited to go down to Tuscaloosa to play in Bama's summer camp every year. I just remember being so hyped when I made the ALL-SABAN team in sixth and seventh grade. I thought I was official. Then eighth grade rolls around, and my mom is like, “Hey listen, we can’t make it work this year. We have to stay close to home. You’re gonna have to go to the Ohio State camp.”
I was like, “Mom??? Ohio State??? Really???” I almost took it as punishment. And the funniest part was that this was 2015, when they were coming off the national championship, so I don’t even have a good excuse. Literally, the first thing they had all the campers do was go and take a picture with Urban Meyer next to the trophy. I swear to you, I had no idea who this man was. He could’ve been a camp counselor or the AD or something — I had no clue. I shook his hand and put my hand on the trophy and smiled for the photo. Then they had all of us gathered around in a circle, and I guess they were trying to hype us up on the history of the program, because they were asking all these trivia questions. Coach Hinton, who’s still an assistant at OSU to this day, was the one running it. He said, “How many national championships have we won? Who knows?” There’s hundreds of campers. For some reason, one of the coaches hands me the mic. I have no clue. But I’m looking around, and I see all these banners hanging up — commemorating all the Orange Bowls, Rose Bowls and Big Ten titles over the last 70, 80 years. I’m counting the banners, thinking I’m slick.
Finally, I’m like, “42.”
Everybody starts laughing — I mean the whole camp. I was so embarrassed, but I was playing it off. I was still holding the microphone, and I just got all defensive, like, “Man, whatever! I usually go to Alabama every year anyway! I don’t even care!!!” (Whenever you hear somebody say, “I don’t even care!!!” that’s when you know they’re suppressing that single tear coming out of the corner of their eye.)
That whole week, I was in my 13-year-old pride. I think I was literally telling people, “Bro, I’m never coming here! I’m going to Bama!” Hahahaha.
It’s funny looking back on it now, because Coach Meyer became one of my biggest mentors. And as far as Columbus goes?
Columbus became my favorite place on earth.
I can tell you the exact moment I knew I wanted to be a Buckeye.
I was sitting on the couch in Coach Meyer’s office with him and my mom. I was on my first official visit, right before my junior year of high school. That summer, me and my mom must’ve visited 25 schools. I’ve been to every college campus from Stanford to Penn State on down to Georgia, and, honestly, they all have something special about them. But I’ll never forget, we’re sitting there with Coach Meyer, and he’s like, “I want you to watch something.”
And then he put it on. The single greatest hype video of all time, in my opinion. The Brotherhood video. Every Buckeye in the world knows what I’m talking about. The YouTube video they put together after the Penn State comeback game in 2017. If you’re a real Buckeye, you know every frame of that video. You might just think about it and get goose bumps.
Coach turns off all the lights, and he’s sitting right next to me on the couch, and I’m not kidding you, every single time Penn State scored, whenever the score popped up in the lower left corner of the screen, he’d tap my knee. And he’d point at the screen, like, You seein’ this?
Saquon runs the opening kick back.
You seein’ this, kid?
Can you believe this?
This goes on for the next five minutes, to the point where I’m preemptively looking at him after every score like, Coach I can’t believe this.
Finally, it gets to the moment everybody knows — the “possession” catch from Penn State in the end zone, the overturned call, the stunned crowd, and then that overhead Goodyear blimp shot way above The Shoe.
Coach got a big grin on his face, like, This is about to blow your mind.
“AND IT’S BLOCKED!!! LOOSE!!! BOOKER!!! HAS IT!!!!!!”
You know the rest. Literally, every time Coach hit me on the knee, I wanted to run down into the locker room and put some shoulder pads on and just block somebody into the dirt. At the end of the video, you see the guys on the sidelines crying tears of joy, hugging one another, and the fans running onto the field, and he’s just looking at me like….
See? That’s FAMILY.
There’s a lot of great programs, and a lot of great cultures in college football. But there’s college football, and then there’s Ohio State. It’s two different things.- Paris Johnson Jr.
I knew that day I was going to be a Buckeye. I told my mom, “That’s it. I think it’s time for me to commit.”
She was looking at me crazy, like, “We just started! I got a whole itinerary!”
Whatever mom says goes, so we hit the road again. But then finally, after we visited some more schools, she could tell that I wasn’t going to change my mind. I was meant to be a Buckeye. She let me commit. But the trick was that she made me promise to call every single coach who gave me an offer and thank them personally. It was a cool moment, because me and my mom were going through all my letters, and it brought back a lot of memories. I even had one from the University of West Georgia, from way back. In the end, I had to call 48 coaches. No matter how small the school, they gave me an opportunity, so I called.
I remember I started at eight o’clock in the morning and I finally called Coach Meyer at nine o’clock at night and told him I wanted to be a Buckeye. I was so tired that all I can remember him saying was, “Well, son, we’re ready to have you.”
Obviously, Coach Meyer had to leave not long after that, and Coach Day took over for him, but there was never a doubt in my mind about where I wanted to be. I remember my senior year of high school, right before the Penn State game, they invited all the recruits to come to the facility and actually watch the hype video with the team. We’re just in the back of the room, observing everything. Coach Day gives this amazing speech, and then they play the video, and when Coach Franklin came up on the screen, Coach Day grabbed a water bottle and just spiked it and started screaming.
The whole team was going crazy. I’m in the back of the room, not supposed to be saying a peep, and I’m losing my mind. I’m like, “Woooooo! Woooooo!!! Let’s go, Coach!!!! Let’s gooooooo!!!!!”
I was ready to run through a brick wall for the man, and I was still in high school.
There are a lot of great programs, and a lot of great cultures in college football. But there’s college football, and then there’s Ohio State. It’s two different things.
There aren’t a lot of times that come around in life when you feel like you just entered a secret cheat code and you get a second chance to take down the boss. I remember walking off the field with Donovan Jackson after the loss to The Team Up North a few weeks ago, and it was almost like a funeral type of feeling. We just said how appreciative we were of being by each other’s side in the trenches all season. We knew our fate wasn’t in our hands, and we weren’t sure what was going to happen next. You’re looking at the seniors and guys who might not be coming back next year, and it’s such a weird, bittersweet moment. You can’t help thinking about all the work you put in, and all the memories….
You think about the good times, the bad times, the mat drills, the Friday night team dinners, the pecan rolls with the ice cream, the walk-throughs, the Xbox, all the awesome hype videos, the first time you got a Buckeye leaf on your helmet, the time in the freshman dorms when the dishwasher was stinking so crazy that somebody called the fire department thinking it was a gas leak, the time you embarrassed yourself the first day of classes asking the professor if you had permission to go to the bathroom. (“You don’t have to ask in college, Paris. You just go.”)
You think of all that stuff, and it’s like: It can’t really have gone by this fast. It was a really emotional moment. We thought we were done. But somehow, some way … God gave us a second lease on life.
We’re going down to Georgia with unfinished business.- Paris Johnson Jr.
I was watching that USC game just like everybody else. I was chilling on the couch, wondering if we had a chance. It’s the hope that really kills you! So I was just trying to chill and remain calm the whole time. But then I saw Utah establishing the run in the first quarter, and I was like … Hmm. Interesting.
Then I saw their defense really pressing the USC pocket and I was like … Interesting. Very, very interesting.
The funny part was that my girlfriend was watching with me, and she was extremely hype. But she’s new to football, and she got a little confused about the colors at one point, and when USC ripped off a 15-yard run, she’s yelling, “Go!!!! Go!!!!!”
And I’m yelling, “No!!!! No!!!!!!”
Everybody in the group text was going crazy, but I was trying not to say a word until the clock hit zero. When it finally did, and USC had been knocked off, I was just so thankful to have a second chance at this, with all my brothers. We don’t take that opportunity for granted. We’re going down to Georgia with unfinished business.
I want to win a national championship so badly. Not just for myself, not just for my teammates, not just for my classmates and professors and coaches and trainers. But really for this entire community. I didn’t grow up with the posters on my wall. I didn’t have an appreciation for big-time college football as a kid, and what this place really means. I literally thought we’d won 42 natties. (To this day, Coach Hinton likes to remind me, “Paris, 42? Really?”)
This was not supposed to happen. But I thank God that my path led me to Columbus, because this university and this community is about a lot more than wins and losses and banners on the wall. It’s really a feeling. It’s a brotherhood and an unbreakable bond, and I’m not just talking about football.
No matter what happens down in Georgia, just know that we’ll be ready to run through that wall for you one more time.
This is FAMILY. Forever.
Thank God that I’m a Buckeye.