Football Star Gives Back to North Greenwood Neighborhood Thorugh Camp
Local product and Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Leonard Johnson's football camp in the rough and tumble North Greenwood neighborhood aims for positive change for kids mired in an environment of drugs and violence.
Editor's note: This story originally ran in July 2011. We're putting it in the spotlight again to highlight the accomplishments one person can make.
Each summer Iowa State football star Leonard Johnson becomes a dream promoter.
His mom Schenique Harris is helping him work at it.
She sends her son letters from the kids who look up to him. They live in the same rough-and-tumble North Greenwood neighborhood where Johnson grew up.
Harris also noticed how her son spent time during the summer, playing football with the kids in the field near the Martin Luther King Center. It is near where Johnson played with the North Greenwood Panthers as a young boy.
So, the two are spearheading a football camp for kids Sunday on those fields behind Clearwater Intermediate School in hopes of showing them a better outlet than the violence that is so prevalent in the community.
Johnson’s Iowa State teammates Jarvis West and Jeremiah George will be there. Some of Johnson’s Largo High school teammates also will be there, including Brynn Harvey, UCF, and Mike Marry, Ole Miss.
Harris works in the Pinellas County Sheriff’s department and is concerned when she sees children as young as 8 years old come through the court system.
Johnson works with learning disabled kids at Sandy Lane Elementary, where more than 800 of its 857 students are on free or reduced lunch. Harris said her son overcame his academic issues early on.
A lot of the recent violence in the North Greenwood neighborhood helped spur this camp.
Earlier this year, a rash of gun violence struck just a couple blocks from Johnsons’ house — two separate shooting incidents in five days. Clearwater Police Chief Anthony Holloway vowed to put an end to the violence plaguing the North Greenwood neighborhood in April. Police are still looking for suspect Bryan Caldwell for the murder of two people in one of the shootings.
Harris said, being in the center of it, and having Johnson succeed through all the adversity, she wanted to help spread the light.
“It’s heart wrenching to me,” Harris said. “I thank God I didn’t lose my boys.”
Whether he's in the 'hood or in cornbread America, Leonard Johnson can hit that switch.
He can adapt.
He shifts from low key, funny guy off the field to a terror on it.
Whether Johnson is on the field or off, or just back in Des Moines, that itch to keep looking over his shoulder isn’t there.
Johnson said it is a “relaxed” environment. He fits in with the other 28,000 students at Iowa State.
But it’s a totally different world from North Greenwood.
“I’m adjustable,” Johnson said with an infectious smile.
Johnson, who graduates after this year, came home the summer after his freshman year, ready to make a difference in his neighborhood.
“To know that I grew up in the middle of everything,” Johnson said.
Johnson starred the Largo High School football team. He's gone on to a successful college career as a cornerback at Iowa State. Harris said he is projected as a first round pick.
Johnson is a prankster, ever since his days at Largo High School. He talked about one of his first practices as a rookie. He pulled the padding out of all the helmets. All but one, his. While everyone ran until the perpetrator came forward.
Eventually, after some running, Johnson did. He privately let Coach Rick Rodriguez know. He learned a valuable lesson about when to flip the switch. That doesn’t mean he lost his comic wit.
It is a huge change.
Johnson's college teammate Jeremiah George calls life in Clearwater a lot more fast-paced to what they experience in Iowa.
George also looks up to Johnson and is working so other kids in the neighborhood continue to see them both as role models.
“When I was younger I wanted to have someone to look up to (in the neighborhood),” George said.
George is a lot of smiles these days.
He starred at Clearwater High and is getting his feet wet playing football at Iowa State, too.
George overcame myriad obstacles when he made it to school. For George, football always came easy. Now, academics are important so he can keep playing time. But to him, a lot more than just a career is riding on it, a community is, too.
It is hard to have a good time and also do well in class. He said that some of the fun can wait, and he separated himself from a lot of his group. By the second semester everything seemed straightened out.
“It seemed like a lot at first,” George said with a smile. “I wanted to go out with my friends.”
They are examples of what is right, Harris said. That saying you grow up in North Greenwood does not mean you are part of a cycle of drugs and violence.
If you go:
What: C&C Football Camp
When: 4:15 to 8 p.m. Sunday (July 31)
Details: Open to kids 8 to 16
Call: (727) 709-9808