Setting The Foundation

Paris Johnson, Jr. puts it very simply. He wants to "set as many records as I can set" as a college football player. 

And while that kind of talk has to sound like poetry to college football coaches, like Ohio State's Ryan Day, to whom Johnson has verbally committed, what actually sets the Cincinnati St. Xavier offensive lineman apart is that his goals are even higher than that. 

Early Start

They were among the first words ever spoken to him. 

"Walk your purpose," his mother, Monica, told Paris. 

Too tiny to understand, she has provided frequent reminders ever since. 

"Very, very, very often. Almost daily," Johnson confirmed, with a smile you could hear over the phone. 

For that reason, he has worked with Anthony Munoz's Character Counts program and served as a counselor at Keith Rucker's Reach 4 the Sky camp. He has done volunteer work for the Special Olympics. He has also learned to speak Mandarin Chinese and excelled in the classroom. 

All that, though, was just a start.

Johnson has made it his aim to establish a charitable foundation of his own. 

"I always knew, but it was actually my Mom who thought of doing it," Johnson said. "She put the words into reality."

Now that reality is just pending the approval of its 5013c status from the Internal Revenue Service and Ohio Attorney General. 

Its mission, though, is already in place. 

Johnson has appreciated the servicemen and servicewomen he has come into contact with, so he would like to assist veterans. He has also noticed occasions when opponents have come out with equipment that doesn't quite match the quality of that provided by St. Xavier, so he wants to lend support to athletes and athletic programs in financial need. 

"Paris’s vision for is future is so different," said his high school coach Steve Specht.

Is This Allowed? 

In addition to having its mission, The Paris Johnson, Jr. Foundation already has a board of directors. It includes someone with experience working with veterans and a nurse who has a finger on the pulse of the community's needs. 

Monica Johnson, in addition to her job as a school administrator, will be the president.

Her son will just be a spokesman, in part to avoid problems with the NCAA. 

Rule 12.5.1 in the association's manual specifies the ways an athlete, or in this case, a prospective athlete, are permitted to participate in "institutional, charitable, education or nonprofit promotions."

"Typically there are no issues provided the prospect does not profit from their name, image or likeness," explained the Ohio State compliance department in an emailed statement. 

The school could not comment further. "Because recruitment generally continues until a prospect signs an NLI, investigating these situations usually falls upon the NCAA Amateurism Certification Staff at the NCAA Eligibility Center." 

Despite the fact that there are limits, Johnson said he hoped to see other athletes follow his example in founding their own charitable organizations. 

"Hopefully, this lasts longer than me," he said. "I want to use the platform football gives me."

But Come Game Time, He's an Outlaw

Johnson's empathy may make him a standout in his field, but once he is on the field, he's a different man. 

From the time he was five years old to middle school, he played for the Westchester Outlaws, and one theory that league embraces is that players need to be taught the difference between what is acceptable between the lines and outside of them.

Johnson said his coaches would tell him before all his games and practices that he had to change his mindset, and once football was over, they would always remind him he needed to turn that aggression off. 

“He’s a different young man," said Specht. "What we all want with our kids is that first and foremost that they be great people, that they flip the switch. Make no mistake, he’s a great, great person."

And he's a good enough football player that he was recently named First-Team All-Ohio by USA Today, and is considered a five-star recruit by 247Sports.

“I would say my kids are perfect if they would clean their room,” joked Monica.

Where His Recruitment Stands

Ohio State currently has six verbal commitments for the recruiting class of 2020. Johnson is among them, but he has also said he's going to do some more homework to make sure that OSU is the right place for him following the program's coaching change. 

Two weeks ago, it was offensive coordinator Ryan Day who announced the list of 2019 recruits who had sent their letters of intent to the Buckeyes on college football's early signing day. However, all but three of those 15 players had committed to OSU before Urban Meyer's announcement that the Rose Bowl would be his final game as the team's head coach.

That job now belongs to Day, and as he looks to build the bedrock of his program, he's really hoping to land a player with a strong foundation of his own.

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