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East Carolina’s Britt Johnson Has and Always Will Be a Pirate at Heart
Since October 2003, East Carolina senior sniper Britt Johnson has had the opportunity to do what everyone should do at some point in their lives to be happy and fulfill their dreams. Johnson’s dream, for as long as he can remember, has been to be a football player at East Carolina University.
“I’ve been an East Carolina Pirate for as long as I can remember. I’m 22 now, so I guess technically I’ve been around for 19 years. After being born into such a strong Carolina family East, I was an East Carolina Pirate. I had a choice, and I’m so glad I didn’t.”
Johnson’s parents, Don and Wanda, both ECU alumni, were taking their son to ball games in Greenville long before he knew what was going on. Not only was Don an ECU graduate, he was also a manager during the very successful Pat Dye era.
Johnson lives in Rocky Mount, just 45 minutes from Greenville. It’s been a convenient place to call home over the years with countless family trips to the Emerald City. Britt loves his hometown, which he calls “The Rock,” but he also recognizes how living 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 die-hard Pirates, but they’re also chasing their athletic dreams. Will is a baseball player at Barton College in Wilson, about 30 minutes from Greenville, while Grant plays multiple sports for the Rocky Mount Gryphons. However, despite some conflicts, they can play most of their older brother’s games. It means a lot to their “big brother” and it’s something he definitely doesn’t take for granted.
“It’s a great feeling on Saturday to look out into the stands and see my brothers Will and Grant decked out in their purple and gold and see them cheering me on as I pursue my dream.”
Johnson also appreciates the presence of his grandparents at his games, but more importantly, the support they have always offered him.
“It was also great to see all my grandparents at my games.”
Jack and Doryl Henderson, her mother’s parents, haven’t missed a game.
“They haven’t lost a game since I’ve been on the team, and they’ve also made sure to join the Pirates Club. They’re definitely deadly Pirates.”
His father’s parents, Donald and Mildred Johnson, are just as supportive.
“They have supported me throughout my life and followed all my athletic endeavors. I am very grateful for that.”
That closeness to East Carolina allowed the Rocky Mount native to miss only three Pirate football home games since 1987. Britt’s earliest memories of attending an ECU game are from that 1987 season.
“The first game I remember attending at East Carolina was in 1987, when ECU was playing Florida State. The thing I remember most was trying to score with 12 minutes left in the quarter. to leave the game first. My dad wasn’t sure. let it happen and I’m glad he didn’t because I never thought I’d leave the game early now.”
After graduating from Rocky Mount High School, the former Gryphon center and deep snapper knew he was going to East Carolina to pursue his lifelong dream of playing football for his beloved Pirates.
Because of his lack of size, the 5-8, 223-pound Johnson knew his place would be in the deep end. After arriving at ECU, he made the team twice, but was unsuccessful in each attempt. The Pirate was very depressed and thought about giving up on his dream, but he knew that he couldn’t give up because it wasn’t a Pirate’s business.
On September 30, 2003, Johnson was attending East Carolina’s Tuesday night game against the Houston Cougars on ESPN when he presented his opportunity as a result of an injury to the Pirates’ deep tackle.
“Brandon Howard, our long snapper, got 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 in the locker room and he told me he tore his ACL.”
“A few days later, I went by Coach McManus’ office. He was the special teams coach at the time, but he wasn’t in his office, so I swallowed a little bit and said to myself, ‘Okay, I’ve got to go to the big dog.’ . So I went to John Thompson’s office and when I walked in I introduced myself and he said, “Britt, I already know who you are. We were going to call you.”
“He told me to show up at practice the next day to hit for him. I went over there and I was suiting up at the end of the season. I’ve been on the team ever since.”
While Johnson accomplished his goal of making the team at ECU, will his experience in the purple and gold seem somewhat incomplete if he never takes the field?
“Not a chance. I’d certainly love to be successful next year as a senior if I get the chance, but if not, I can walk away with my head held high knowing I’ve fulfilled my childhood dream. It’s just is. great to be an East Carolina Pirate.”
With Johnson’s senior season on the horizon, he reflected on his best 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 in my closet and knowing that I was about to wear the jersey that I’ve dreamed of wearing my whole life. Dressing up, running through the tunnel with smoke and hearing 46,000 fans screaming their lungs out for you, it was a feeling I’ve never experienced in my life.”
He can’t wait to experience the same feeling six more times before his playing days are over.
As a die-hard, lifelong Pirate, Johnson is sure to have some great Pirate memories from his days on the team – the games, the seasons, the players.
“My favorite memory as a fan, by far, was going through the entire 1991 season and being able to watch the comeback in the Peach Bowl against NC State.”
“My favorite ECU player has to be Jeff Blake. He’s the first quarterback I can actually remember watching his entire career. The quarterback that led ECU to the promised land in 1991!”
During his time at East Carolina, he not only lived out his year-long dream of being on the Pirate football team, but he made many friends through football that he will never forget.
“My biggest memory will probably be not seeing the guys I’ve seen every day of my life for the last four years. Our friendship will last forever, but it won’t be the same. I’m going to miss the feeling you have, too. On game day get, knowing you’re going to battle with your brothers, the feeling of knowing you’re willing to die for these guys on the field every Saturday!”
As Johnson winds down as a Pirate player, he spoke about the future of the East Carolina program under Skip Holtz.
“We’re a growing program,” Johnson said. “Coach Holtz is great and he’s surrounded himself with the best staff we’ve had here at East Carolina in a long time. Expect great things to happen here. I just hope everyone jumps on board and comes on board. . hop on and ride with us. It’s going to be a fun ride.”
On November 11, 2006, East Carolina hosts the Marshall Thundering Herd on Senior Day. One can only imagine the bittersweet thoughts going through Britt Johnson’s head as he walks into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for the last time.
“It’s going to be a very sad day for me. It’s the day I’ve been dreading since I came to ECU. It’s going to be very hard knowing that this is going to be the last game of my life. I probably will. Cry and just be thankful, that God has given me to be a part of this program. I’m going to kiss my mom, hug my dad, wave to my family in the stands, and then go get ready to beat Marshall! Knowing that this is technically my last home game It won’t happen because I plan on hosting the conference championship game!”
Unfortunately, this dream ends like all dreams, but what a dream it was! Britt Johnson doesn’t want to wake up just yet, as he hopes his lifelong dream with the Pirates will end in a bowl game.
But when the dream is over, rest assured this Pirate will be sweating purple and gold until the day he dies.
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