Life on the Farm

  • SCOTT M. JOHNSON / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, October 24, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Ex-Mariner High School stars Johnson and Gordon adjust to college life at Stanford


Herald Writer

PALO ALTO, Calif. — Teyo Johnson, Stanford University freshman, was getting swarmed. Just seven games into his collegiate football career, having never even taken a snap, Johnson found himself surrounded by autograph seekers as he walked off the field following a win over USC on Saturday.

The surprising thing wasn’t that the fans were after him — Johnson could be Stanford’s starting quarterback in football and power forward in basketball at this time next year.

What was surprising was that Johnson had time to stop.

Earlier that day, he had taken part in his first practice with the basketball team — a 90-minute scrimmage Saturday morning — before standing on the sidelines watching the Cardinal’s exciting 32-30 win over the Trojans. Still ahead of him was the kind of workload for which Stanford is better known, a pile of homework that would overwhelm most college freshmen.

"It’s a confusing time right now," Johnson said as he scribbled his name for a young group of admirers.

For most freshmen, it would be too much. Taking part in two practices a day while trying to balance a full academic workload is a tall task. Then again, Johnson isn’t like most freshmen.

"Teyo’s so cocky that he’s not going to let it get to him," said Riall Johnson, Teyo’s brother and a senior defensive end for the Cardinal. "What I mean by that is, he’s confident. It’s really nothing new to him. I told him before he came in that it’s going to be the hardest thing he’s ever done, but it’s also going to be the funnest. So I’m sure he’s having the time of his life."

Sixteen months removed from his last class at Mariner High School, Teyo Johnson is on the fast track to success. And he’s taking his old teammate with him.

Anyone who even remotely follows high school football in Snohomish County knows the story of Johnson and Amon Gordon, who have taken the long route from Mariner to Stanford University.

Johnson and Gordon were the stars of Mariner’s 1998 state runner-up team, even though they were only juniors. The state’s top two returning players, Johnson and Gordon shocked almost everyone by transferring to Mira Mesa High near San Diego during the summer before their senior year. Johnson’s mother, Gloria, bought a two-bedroom apartment in Mira Mesa and lived with both boys while helping to run the family business.

The transfers caused an uproar across the state, with rumors running rampant.

There were allegations that a major shoe company had arranged the move to guarantee the star players would end up in an athletic program that was Nike-sponsored. There was talk that Dan Regas, who coached Johnson and Gordon on an AAU basketball team during the summer of 1999, arranged for the transfer so that he could be reunited with them at Mira Mesa. Others wondered if maybe a lukewarm relationship between Johnson and Mariner basketball coach Dexter Griffen had something to do with it.

To this day, many Mariner fans still wonder what happened. Others just feel betrayed.

"They’re pretty bitter people up there," said Gordon, a freshman linebacker for the Cardinal. "But, hey, you’ve just got to keep doing what you’re doing. That’s all I can do.

"They don’t really understand. It was a matter of guys looking to better themselves. Maybe they couldn’t understand because it’s not them. I can’t worry about it."

Gordon was vague when asked why the decision to transfer was made, but both players are happy with the results.

"It was the best decision I ever made," Johnson said. "And I don’t expect people to understand that, from whatever information they get about recruiting or Nike or whatever. I’m at Stanford University now playing quarterback. If I didn’t make that transfer, I wouldn’t be at Stanford playing quarterback. I’d maybe be at Stanford University playing tight end, or I’d be just playing basketball, but I wouldn’t be playing quarterback."

Johnson left behind a girlfriend of two years and the chance to lead Mariner to its first-ever state football and basketball titles. But he has no regrets.

"I went down to Mira Mesa and they turned me into a quarterback running the West Coast offense," Johnson said. "(At Mariner), I played quarterback, but it was high school football. No offense to the coaches; we went to the state championship. But for my future personally, it was something I had to do, and it was the best decision I ever made."

After going 10-3 in 1998 — including a 29-27 loss to Capital of Olympia in the state championship game — the Mariner High football team dropped to 1-8 the following year. But football coach John Ondriezek doesn’t like to look at life as a series of what-ifs.

"They’re at Stanford now, and we’ve moved on," Ondriezek said. "It’s a great, great opportunity at an outstanding school, and I’m sure they’ll do well in life no matter what they end up doing."

Johnson and Gordon went on to have solid senior seasons at Mira Mesa — both athletically and academically. They each played football and basketball, and were named to the San Diego All-Academic team. Nearly every college in the country was interested.

Both student-athletes claim they chose Stanford individually. While academics were the most obvious lure, Johnson’s decision also came down to the fact that he will try his hand at both football and basketball. The opportunity to play quarterback also played heavy into his choice.

For most of the recruiting process, Gordon was leaning toward USC; Johnson toward Miami of Florida. Eventually, their bond brought them back together at their third different school in as many years.

"It wound up where we were just like, if something happens and we can’t play sports anymore, we still want to be able to buy our parents a big house. That Stanford diploma’s going to do it for you," said Johnson, who had a 3.4 GPA as a high school senior. "It’s a great network system, a great school. This is where I think every guy should aspire to be. It combines athletics and academics like no other school can.

"We’re playing big-time football, too. We just beat USC. It’s not like I’m going to Harvard."

Gordon, whose high school GPA was 3.8, saw immediate playing time on special teams for the Cardinal, but injured his shoulder after playing in just two games. Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham said Monday that he will attempt to get a medical redshirt for Gordon, thereby ending his football season while keeping him eligible for four more years.

While he sits out, Gordon will attend football practices and be a regular in the basketball crowd at Maples Pavilion. Although he and Johnson live on opposite sides of Stanford’s campus, they remain as close as ever.

"That’s my homey forever," Gordon said. "That’s my brother."

Johnson has yet to see playing time for the Cardinal football team, and also expects to redshirt this season. Due to an injury to starter Randy Fasani, however, Johnson has spent a good part of his freshman year as the No. 2 quarterback behind redshirt freshman Chris Lewis.

Once Fasani gets back to full strength, Johnson will devote most of his time to the basketball team, while suiting up for home football games.

On Saturday, Fasani returned to the lineup before re-injuring his knee in the game’s final minute. With Johnson standing on the sideline as the backup, Lewis threw a touchdown pass on the game’s final play for a 32-30 victory over USC.

Afterward, Johnson scratched his signature for a few young Cardinal fans and made the long walk back to Stanford’s locker room. His legs were starting to feel tired. An hour-and-a-half of basketball will do that.

"I love challenges," Johnson said. "I get bored if I’m doing the same thing every day. But this isn’t permanent. The coaches are eventually going to let me go so I’ll be straight basketball. With Randy’s knee, I might have to do the double-shift for a long time. They want me ready in case Randy goes down, then Chris might go down and I’d have to come on the field."

The dual role may be taxing, but Johnson seems to be handling it well. He’s used to juggling extracurricular activities. Being a great athlete, it turns out, is just one of many attributes. His resume includes the Urban League Golden Pyramid Scholar Award, four articles written for Student Sports Magazine and numerous appearances as a motivational speaker for youth groups. He’s the kind of charismatic figure that draws people in with his easy-going personality and presence.

Johnson’s education at Stanford is financially covered because of a football scholarship, but he could be an immediate contributor to the basketball team. He had planned to dedicate more of his freshman year to basketball, but the health of Fasani has accelerated Johnson’s role with the football team.

Playing two sports makes for quite a day. Johnson’s current schedule has him taking three courses — Spanish, humanities and psychology — between 9 a.m. and noon. Then he grabs lunch and heads to film sessions with the football team between 1:45 and 3:15, at which time he goes to football practice. When that’s over, at 6:30, Johnson rushes back to the Stanford athletic complex to get in a 90-minute workout with the Cardinal basketball team. When that session’s over, he sits in study hall for another hour-and-a-half. Then, 12 1/2 hours after his schedule began, Johnson actually has a few minutes of free time before going to bed.

"You’ve really just got to dedicate to yourself to the schedule," Johnson said. "Cardiovascular-wise, it’s not really that demanding. It’s really more mental. You have to have a long attention span."

After grabbing the attention span of fans in three communities, Johnson and Gordon look like they’ve finally found a home. They’ve left their past behind, and they hope the people in their hometown can do the same.

"I love Everett," Johnson said. "It’s a great place. I grew up there, I’ve got roots. I love going back to Washington."

Maybe one day they’ll be welcomed back with open arms.

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