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University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Man of many hats

November 11, 2009

Tyler Johnson.

Tyler Johnson is no stranger to the gym. He wrestled and played football in high school, played a year of football at the U, and has worked in strength and conditioning at two different schools.

Photo: Patrick O'Leary

Senior Tyler Johnson adroitly juggles academics, activities, and family life

By Rick Moore

There's one motto that U student Tyler Johnson draws upon occasionally—that time should just be a reference, not a standard. (Translation: things don't always have to take as long to do as people say they should.)

For Johnson, that's a good thing. If he ascribed to conventional time guidelines and believed how long things should take, he'd be short about 12 hours each day.

Johnson is a full-time student majoring in kinesiology, and at any given time over the past three years he's been involved in one or more of the following: playing for the Golden Gopher football team, interning as a strength and conditioning coach (first for Fridley High School and now for the Gophers), and running his own five-person house-painting business. Before that, he was in the Marines for four years and served two stints in Iraq. Oh ... he's also married with a 6-year-old daughter and another child on the way.

That's a lot for any resume, but Johnson, 25, is not the kind of person to blow his own horn. He's more likely to shrug his shoulders and say, "It's no big deal."

Still, his accomplishments are worth noting, and it's especially timely to note them this month. November 11 was Veterans Day and Student Veterans Appreciation Day. Also, November is Nontraditional Students Month at the University of Minnesota.

From Iraq to the Metrodome

Johnson graduated from Concordia Academy in 2002 and decided to join the Marines that September. He married his wife, Danielle, the following winter, the day after Valentine's Day, and was deployed to Iraq for the first time a year later. That first stint lasted about six months.

After switching units, Johnson was sent to Iraq a second time in September 2005. He was there for the elections in June 2006—"That was a fun time," he says—and was discharged later in the year.

"After the first year, it just kind of flew by," Johnson says of his service. "I think it means more every day. Maybe the farther you get from something, the more you can understand it."

He enrolled at the U in fall 2006 and admits that making the adjustment to college was "definitely a big switch." Johnson was on the smaller side in high school (he's 5-foot-7 and wrestled at 145 pounds), but coming out of the Corps he had filled out to 190 pounds. Some friends from high school had suggested he try becoming a walk-on for the Minnesota football team, so that's what he did.

In September 2007, with the season already underway, he contacted the football powers-that-be and was told to come back the following day with cleats. A few weeks later he traveled with the team for a contest against Indiana, and [in the seventh game of the season] against Northwestern, he saw action for the first time. He played on special teams (kickoff, kickoff return, and punt-blocking) and wound up lettering that season, Tim Brewster's first as head coach.

"College is college no matter how old you are. There are always assignments and [things] you have to get done," Johnson says. "It's not necessarily difficult to juggle, it's more that I don't feel I can put as much into each individual thing as I'd like to."

In spring camp the next year, Johnson suffered an injury thought to be a mid-foot sprain. He later discovered he needed surgery, but decided to postpone it till after the summer. After all, there was a fledgling painting business to tend to. "Obviously, I couldn't take the whole summer off [or] be on crutches for six weeks," he smiles.

Instead, he had the surgery done on September 12, 2008, a year to the day before the opening of TCF Bank Stadium. However, Johnson says he's not 100 percent in terms of speed or mobility, and when he discovered Danielle was pregnant again, he decided to hang up his cleats.

"I'm 25, and maybe I'm a little too old to be playing football for fun, you know," he says. "And the injury kind of took the fun out of it. I'm a lot more interested in the area of study I'm in now, too."

He's certainly still staying busy. He has an internship with U football strength coach Mark Hill. The GI Bill finances much of his college education, but the monthly stipends only run through the academic calendar. So in the summer, when a majority of students are decompressing and rejuvenating, Johnson is keeping up the frenetic pace. In addition to the house-painting gigs, he usually squeezes in an early-morning workout.

On being a nontraditional student

Johnson is matter-of-fact when it comes to describing his life as a 25-year-old husband and parent. He admits that it can be difficult to find common ground with his classmates—a common refrain among nontraditional students and certainly a recurring theme among veterans—but that doesn't appear to bother him in the slightest.

"You try to just find commonalities between whatever ages you're working with, whether it's your peers or other people," he says. "[I guess] the one thing the military might have taught us is that age or race or any of that stuff doesn't really matter if we're all in the same place trying to work for a common goal."

"College is college no matter how old you are. There are always assignments and [things] you have to get done," he adds. "It's not necessarily difficult to juggle, it's more that I don't feel I can put as much into each individual thing as I'd like to. For school, I'd like to be able to put more into it than I can, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way. Same with the family, I'd like to be able to spend more time with them."

He credits his wife and daughter with being very supportive of all that he does. And Danielle picks up where he may have some shortcomings. "She's [obsessive-compulsive] and a planner, and I'm not a planner," he smiles. "She reminds me of everything else, so I just remind myself about school."


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