Developing young minds is a family affair for NFL brothers

Photo by Leon Tucker
 Derrick Johnson (left), and his brother, Dwight Johnson, do personal training for amateur and professional athletes at their Total Athlete complex in McDonough.

Photo by Leon Tucker Derrick Johnson (left), and his brother, Dwight Johnson, do personal training for amateur and professional athletes at their Total Athlete complex in McDonough.

For Dwight Johnson, the key to success boils down to one thing: whether a big brother can lead his little brother to do the right thing.

“If a big brother does the right thing, the little brother will follow,” he said.

It can be said Johnson’s younger brother, Derrick, is the product of that philosophy as a star NFL linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs.

“My brother has been a big role model in my life since I was a kid,” said Derrick Johnson, a 30-year-old two-time Pro Bowl selection. “He paved the way for me to be the kind of player I am today.”

In the literal sense, it was ingrained in Dwight Johnson, by his mother, to protect his two brothers and sister and set the example on what it means to grow up with integrity — to be responsible, ambitious and hard working.

Now, it is a philosophy that has since grown into a mission that Dwight Johnson is passing along to approximately 85 area youth weekly during a summer camp, with the aid of team trainers at his Total Athlete sports training complex in McDonough.

“We want to prepare the leaders of tomorrow through sports training so they can be successful on and off the field,” said the 36 year-old Dwight. “Every child can learn a lot from being in sports because it teaches so much.”

Over the course of his NFL career, which included spots with the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, Dwight has developed personal and professional techniques in speed, agility, strength, and conditioning.

For the past six years, the Waco, Texas, native has been providing performance training to families in the Southern Crescent area. In response to the growing demand for his help, he opened the 30,000-square-foot facility and is now helping youth and adult athletes from across the country improve their performance through the use of his techniques and with the aid of a team of athletic trainers.

“We train everyone from the five years old all the way to professional ranks,” said Johnson.

This year’s youth summer program, which began at the start of June and goes until the last week of July, is made up of day-long training sessions where kids engage in a host of sports including football, basketball, baseball, volleyball and soccer. It includes breakfast, lunch, snacks and workouts with NFL players like Derrick Johnson and Kelly Campbell and coaches on strength, speed and agility.

“I take a lot of pride and passion in developing kids,” said Derrick Johnson, 30. “When they see me on TV, and then for me to actually come into their life and in person teach them some things I know they get a lot of joy.”

Other high-profile athletes that train at Total Athlete include Buc Farmer, star pitcher for Georgia Tech, who was drafted by the Brewers and Braves and Jamal Patterson, standout wide receiver at Stanford University.

But according to Dwight, the objective isn’t just power, quickness or fame.

“The game of football, basketball, baseball will be over soon and you’ll still be a young person,” he said. “So you have to take those same traits you learn here and be able to use them in every-day life.”

Case in point: When Derrick Johnson first joined the NFL, he knew with the avalanche of big money and high praise that came so did the potential for problems.

“I knew I had to stay humble,” he said.

In his fifth year, Derrick Johnson was benched — participating in no more than 20 plays that season — and all the praise turned unto criticism and doubt.

“It was real tough for me,” he said. “But it actually helped me build my character even more.”

The following year, Derrick won back the starting position on the team, went on to play in the Pro Bowl two years in a row and saw his contract with the Chiefs renewed.

“In sports, you learn how to handle success and failure and it’s all about how you respond to it and how you learn from it,” Dwight Johnson said. “Anybody can teach football skills, but it’s how you motivate kids that makes all the difference in the world.”

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Dwight Johnson bellows his trademark, rallying cry: “Don’t cheat your body!”

It’s for the kids.

“When they hear that, it’s like it takes the limits off their minds — it gets them hyped,” he said. “I build up kids’ minds.”

A moment of earnest reflection was then followed by an explanation that sounded more like an urgent plea.

“I lift them up,” he said. “Build up a kid’s confidence and everything else will follow.”