Arkansas Youth Football Coach Ed Johnson is not only a legend and hero on the gridiron, but his time served as an Army Ranger in Vietnam relates to the tenacity and intensiveness of his coaching style.
Johnson, a South End native located in a small neighborhood in Little Rock, AR, coached for over 50 years and started the Sunset Tiger Football Team in 1972. His football knowledge has spread to his young players, which resulted in 27 of them making it to the NFL and 75 playing at the collegiate level. Former first-round pick Leslie O’ Neal played for Johnson, where he made the pro-bowl six times and earned rookie defensive player of the year in 1986. His coaching certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed; he’s been inducted into the Mississippi Youth Football Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2019.
His ability to connect with kids has shaped many lives and their future. Serving as their coach, and in some cases, a mentor shows how special Johnson is.
In an interview with Prospects by Sports Illustrated, Coach Johnson said all he wanted to do was help prevent the kids from fighting on the streets and provide them with a healthy outlet, along with getting them involved in organized sports.
Instead of Johnson focusing on his own life, he made his players the focal point of keeping them out of trouble. His compassion toward these kids, steering them in the right direction in life, shows the kind of person he is.
In Johnson’s life, there’s more to him than knowing the ins and outs of youth football. When he was just 20 years old, as an Army Ranger, he was stationed in Vietnam for 15 months, where he sustained significant injuries. Not only was he shot in both legs during combat, but he stepped on an explosive as well.
The bravery and ability to sacrifice for his country granted him a Silver Star Award, Bronze Star Award, Vietnam Bronze Star Award, and two Purple Heart Awards. Receiving The Purple Heart is when a U.S. soldier is wounded or killed while serving.
Johnson’s father wanted to do anything to help his son get his mind off what he had witnessed and sustained when he was in the Army. The alternative was youth football. “Dad told me he said you have to try this,” said Johnson, “this will be the medicine you need.”
When Johnson spoke to Prospects by Sports Illustrated, he couldn’t stress enough how youth football changed his life dramatically. It resulted in better communication, his severity of PTSD was getting better, proving to be the medicine he needed. Serving as a leader and role model is what got him through the darkest times of his life.
Johnson is currently a member at the American Legion Post 74, where veterans are respected for their heroic acts, and it’s certainly something to be proud of. He still resides in the Little Rock area, where his work is acknowledged.