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East Carolina’s Britt Johnson Has and Always Will Be a Pirate at Heart
Since October 2003, Britt Johnson, a senior singer from Dubrovnik, East Carolina, has had the opportunity to do something that every person should be fortunate to do at some point in their life, live their dream. Johnson’s dream, as long as he can remember, has been to be a football player at East Carolina University.
“I’ve been an East Carolina pirate for as long as I can remember. I’m currently 22, so I guess technically I was around 19. Having been born into such a strong East Carolina family, I didn’t have any choice and I’m very glad I didn’t.”
Johnson’s parents, Don and Wanda, who both graduated from ECU, were taking their son to Greenville games long before he knew what was going on. Don was not only a student at ECU, he was also a manager during the highly successful Pat Dye era.
The Johnsons live in Rocky Mount, which is only a 45-minute drive from Greenville. This has been a convenient place to call home over the years with as many trips as the family has taken to the Emerald City. Britt loves his hometown, which he calls “The Rock,” but he also realizes how living so close to Greenville has benefited him in terms of his family being able to attend his games.
His younger brothers, Will, 19, and Grant, 16, are both die-hard Pirates, but are also chasing their sporting dreams. Will is a baseball player at Barton College in Wilson, which is about 30 minutes from Greenville, while Grant plays multiple sports for the Rocky Mount Gryphons. However, despite some conflicts, they are able to pull off most of their older brother’s games. This means a lot to their “big brother” and it’s something he definitely doesn’t take for granted.
“It’s a great feeling to look out in the stands on Saturday and see my brothers Will and Grant dressed in their purple and gold and see them cheering me on and supporting me as I live my dream.”
Johnson also appreciates the presence of his grandparents at his games, but more importantly the support they have always offered him.
“It was also great to see all my grandparents at my games.
Jack and Doryl Henderson, his mom’s parents, never missed a game.
“They haven’t missed a game since I’ve been on the team, and they’ve also made sure to join the Pirate Club. They’re die-hard Pirates, no doubt.”
His father’s parents, Donald and Mildred Johnson, are equally supportive.
“They have supported me throughout my life and followed all my athletic endeavors.” I am extremely grateful to them for that.”
This proximity to East Carolina has allowed the Rocky Mount native to miss only three Pirate home football games since 1987. Britt’s first memories of attending an ECU game are from that 1987 season.
“The first game I remember attending at East Carolina was in 1987 when ECU played Florida. What I remember most is wanting to leave the game with 12 minutes left in the first quarter. My dad sure didn’t let that happen and glad I’m glad he didn’t, because I would never have thought of leaving the game earlier.”
After graduating from Rocky Mount High School, the former Griffon center and deep snapper knew he would attend East Carolina to pursue his lifelong dream of playing football for his beloved Pirates.
Lacking size, the 5-8, 223-pound Johnson knew his niche would be at deep snapper. After arriving at ECU, he went out for the team twice, but was unsuccessful in each attempt. Frustrated, the stubborn Pirate thought about giving up on his dream, but he knew he couldn’t because that’s not what Pirates do.
On September 30, 2003, Johnson was attending East Carolina’s Tuesday night home game on ESPN against the Houston Cougars when his opportunity presented itself as a result of an injury to the Pirates’ starting deep.
“Brandon Howard, our long snapper, got hurt that night,” Johnson recalled. “We saw him limping off the field and he didn’t come back. After the game I went and waited in the locker room and he told me he tore his ACL.”
“A few days later, I went to Coach McManus’ office. He was the special teams coach at the time, but he wasn’t in his office so I kind of swallowed hard and said to myself, ‘Well, I’ve got to go to the big dog.’ So I went to John Thompson’s office and when I walked in, I started introducing myself and he said, ‘Britt, I already know who you are. We wanted to invite you.’
“He told me to show up to practice the next day ready to shoot him. I went out there and had a blast and ended up suiting up for the rest of the season. I’ve been with the team ever since.”
While Johnson accomplished his goal of making the team at ECU, could his experience in the purple and gold seem incomplete if he never steps onto the court to play a snap?
“No chance. I would definitely like to be a senior next year if I get the chance, but if not, I can still walk away with my head held high knowing that I have fulfilled my childhood dream. it’s great to be an East Carolina Pirate.”
With Johnson’s senior season on the horizon, he looked back on his fondest memory as a member of East Carolina’s football team.
“Without a doubt, my favorite memory as a player was walking into the locker room before the Carolina game and seeing my jersey and pants sitting there in my locker, knowing that I was going to wear the jersey that I had dreamed of wearing. Whole life. To put on the jersey, run through the smoke tunnel and hear 46,000 fans screaming their lungs out for you, it was a feeling I’ve never experienced in my life.”
He can’t wait to experience the same feeling six more times before his playing days are over.
Being such a die-hard and lifelong Pirate, Johnson is sure to have some great Pirate memories — games, seasons, players — aside from his days on the team.
“My favorite memory as a fan, by far, was getting to experience the entire 1991 season and watching the Peach Bowl comeback against NC State.
“My favorite ECU player would have to be Jeff Blake. He’s the first quarterback I really remember seeing his entire career. The quarterback that took ECU to the promised land in 1991!”
During his time at East Carolina, he not only achieved his lifelong dream of being on the Pirate football team, but he also made many great friends through football that he will never forget.
“What I’ll remember the most is not seeing the guys I’ve seen every day of my life for the last four years.” Our friendships will last forever, but they just won’t be the same. I’ll also miss the feeling of going into game day knowing you’re going to battle with your brothers, the feeling of knowing you’re willing to die for these guys on the field every Saturday!”
As Johnson’s time with the Pirates comes to an end, he spoke about the future of East Carolina’s program under Skip Holtz.
“We’re a program on the rise,” Johnson said. “Coach Holtz is great and he’s surrounded himself with a staff that’s as good as any we’ve had here at East Carolina in a long time. Expect big things to start happening here. I just hope everyone jumps into the game and come go on board with us. It’s going to be a fun ride.”
On November 11, 2006, East Carolina will host the Marshall Thunder on Senior Day. One can only imagine the bittersweet thoughts that will be running through Britt Johnson’s head as he makes his final run out to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
“It’s going to be a very sad day for me. This is the day I’ve been dreading since I arrived at ECU. Knowing that this will be the last game of my life, it’s going to be very difficult. I’m probably going to be tearful and just thankful for the opportunity the Lord has given me to be a part of this program. I’m going to kiss my mom, hug my dad, wave to my family in the stands, and then I’m going to get ready to beat Marshall! I’m also going to feel good knowing that this technically won’t be my last home game because I plan on hosting the championship conference games!”
Unfortunately, this dream, like all dreams, will come to an end, but what a dream it was! But Britt Johnson doesn’t want to be woken up just yet, as he hopes the dream he’s been living will end with his Pirates winning the bowl game.
However, when the dream is over, rest assured that this pirate will bleed purple and sweat gold until the day he dies.
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