Bearcats, Panthers mourning loss of Roy Johnson, Jr.

By T. Scott Boatright

Whether it was being there to lend a helping hand in the game of  life, or suddenly flying in to slap down an attempted pass or make a bone-crunching tackle, Roy Johnson, Jr. made an impact on pretty much anyone and everyone he was around.

And Lincoln Parish as a whole is in mourning learning of the loss of Johnson, who died suddenly over the holiday weekend.

Whether it was playing as part of a state championship team at Ruston High School or serving as a coach and mentor at Lincoln Preparatory School, memories of the quiet man who made a big impact throughout his life remain strong.

Lincoln Prep assistant football coach Shannon Aultman played with Johnson as juniors on the 1986 Ruston High state championship team.

“Roy and I were part of a pretty tight little group,” Aultman said. “Roy was a helluva safety in high school and we were good friends. He was a great teammate. But then I went to college and he went to Southern Arkansas for a little bit and I didn’t see him for years.”

Then came 2017 when Aultman joined the staff at Lincoln Prep

“It was like we had never missed a beat and had stayed around each other all of those years of not seeing each other,” Aultman said. “He was just a really good guy. He didn’t always say a lot unless he really got to know you. But he was special. It’s a big loss. Terrible loss.”

Lincoln Prep head football coach Glen Hall said Johnson made an immediate impact as soon as Hall met him.

“Roy was one of those guys who would do anything you asked him to do,” Hall said. “He just quietly went to work and did whatever you needed right then.”

Hall said that while Johnson could be quiet, he also knew how to get through to young people.

“He knew how to build relationships with kids,” Hall said. “We get a lot of kids from (Ruston’s) east side and he knew most of those parents and he could relate to them and their kids. I’ve heard stories about that state championship team he was on at Ruston and how big a hitter he was. 

“Roy meant a lot to the (Lincoln Prep football) team. He meant a lot to the spirit of the team. That’s something I don’t know if we’ll regain – that spirit he had for this team and this school.”

Lincoln Prep Executive Director Gordan Ford said he met Johnson after taking over for that “new school’s first year.

“I met Roy when I moved back home as a guy who hung around Grambling Lab and helped out coaching baseball,” Ford said. “And when we transitioned to Lincoln Prep, he was one of the first guys we hired because we needed someone to help out with handyman/custodial type work.

“So I asked people, he’s here all the time, does he want a job? Roy got a job with us full-time because he was out there working and helping us when nobody was paying him. That’s just the kind of guy he was.

Ford also called Johnson “one of a kind.”

“Now that we have a new building, I get calls every day from people wanting jobs,” Ford said. “But Roy was that guy who was there when there was no money, there was no flashy building, and nobody was even asking him to do it or even thank him at times. He just did it. He was committed to the kids, he was committed to the school, he was just a loyal guy. You can’t replace a guy like that. We’ll eventually have to bring in some people to do some of the work he was doing, you can never really replace somebody like that.”

Panthers basketball coach Antonio Hudson said Johnson also helped out with the hoops program after Hudson was first hired at Grambling Lab.

“My first two seasons he helped us with basketball,” Hudson said. “He didn’t sit on the bench with us. But he did sit behind us and traveled with us. He was a guy who didn’t get much credit from the outside, but those on the inside knew he was there. He did things that would go unseen all the time.”

Simsboro Assistant Principal Jerald Kennedy’s relationship with Johnson went back to their youth.

“He earned everything he got,” Kennedy said. “I remember playing junior high ball with him and he backed up a lot of big-time players at receiver. Then his senior year they put him at free safety and that’s when he really broke out. Roy was a good receiver, too. But he was playing behind guys like Bobby Slaughter and Robert Smith, Jr. He was a year or two younger than them but he earned everything he got.”

“I was at Grambling Lab from 2012 to 2014, and he was there before I got there. I know he helped me when I was there. I never heard him talk much, but when he’d come at you to make that tackle, you’d know he was in the game. He could definitely rock your world.”

Kennedy laughingly remembers one play in particular the two combined for while playing as Bearcats.

“Our junior varsity was playing Bernice’s varsity team,” Kennedy said. “I was running for a touchdown, and a guy hit me and I fumbled the ball into the end zone. And Roy fell on it and got my touchdown. Roy took my points. I’ll never forget that because I was mad at myself for fumbling the ball, but I was glad one of our guys got it.

“And that was Roy. He was always around the football. In the history of Ruston football, I can’t tell you of any free safety that was better. They’re aren’t many you could call better. He wore a neck roll and sat back there like a linebacker. He loved to tackle.”

Origin Bank Vice President Bobby Williams was also a teammate of Johnson’s at Ruston High, but that pair’s relationship went even farther than both being former Bearcats.

“I played with a couple of great safeties, one a high school All-American and the other signed with Nebraska,” Williams said. “Pound for pound, Roy Johnson might have been the best safety that I saw play at RHS. 

“Now I may be biased because he was my cousin, but he was a really good guy and will be missed.”