When Jack Johnson left for an all-school assembly Tuesday with his teacher and second-grade classmates, he had no idea he was about to be the center of attention.
After Norfolk Catholic High School’s band and cheerleaders warmed up the crowd, Nebraska head football coach Mike Riley appeared on a projector screen to offer the eight-year-old an honorary football scholarship.
Jack, his parents and two brothers were then escorted to a table where Jack signed his letter-of-intent and donned a red Husker cap.
Jack suffers from Menkes disease, a rare genetic disorder that affects the body’s copper levels. His father, Eric, says his son’s dreams are always of playing football.
“He’s realizing as he gets older, those aren’t going to be in his cards,” Johnson says. “It’s through Make-A-Wish, it allowed him to be, that’s what he wanted. ‘I want to be a real Husker. Dad, I don’t want to just go to the game. I want to be and experience what it would be like to be a Husker.’ Now, with the signing of the letter-of-intent, the message from Coach Riley, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event for him, for our entire family.”
Johnson says his son has gone through a lot in his young life.
“Some 1,753 shots before his 3rd birthday, countless surgeries, things most of us take for granted,” Johnson says. “There’s little boys and girls that are unfortunate and they have struggles in life. It’s amazing for organizations like Make-A-Wish to be able to put them in the spotlight and truly make their dreams come true. It’s an extremely humbling experience.”
Jack, his dad and mom, Michelle, along with his brothers, 11-year-old Dylan and six-year-old Myles, who also suffers from Menkes, will visit the University on Thursday and Friday where they’ll have lunch and attend meetings and practices with his new teammates, including Jack’s favorite player, Jordan Westerkamp.
Saturday, he’ll take part in the tunnel walk prior to the Huskers’ game with Maryland, before heading to a skybox to cheer on his favorite team.
By Paul Hughes, WJAG, Norfolk