Sports

Texas High School Coach Told His Players He Wouldn't Live Through The Season. Then This Happened

One of the more heartbreaking, human-spirited stories unraveled on the sidelines at AT&T Stadium in the Dallas-area Thursday evening. Shortly after the Newton Eagles won the state’s Class 3A Division II state football title, Newton coach W.T. Johnson gave a post-game interview that won’t soon be forgotten, or leave many dry eyes.

This high school coach just hoped to make it through another season alive. The story begins several months before the Newton Eagles won their second-straight championship.

When the team began practice in August, Johnson called his team together to tell them he probably wouldn’t live to see the end of the 2018 season. Earlier this year, doctors told the coach he only had eight months to live — which meant he wouldn’t see the break of fall, another Christmas or any chance of his team making a run to state. 

Johnson had a double lung transplant in 2015 and his health has deteriorated over the last year. Prior to this weekend, Johnson told reporters he’d visited with death eye-to-eye. And now, he was teaching his kids how to live.

“This has been a long journey. I can’t even begin to describe it,” Johnson said in his postgame interview on Fox Sports Southwest. He went on to say, “I’ve been given a great gift, and people just don’t understand that. The gift is I can see how my life, could affect people before I die.”

Johnson said there were times this season — those bad weeks when the ailments may have been too tough to handle — when he didn’t think he’d see another day or week. But he persevered. It’s what high school coaches in Texas — or just about anywhere in America — tell their student-athletes to do. Fight through adversity and get stronger because of it.

For Johnson, he was in his ninth month of an eight-month window — defying odds, just like he tells his kids to do. He already beat it by a month — with an extra point.

The Newton Eagles, who won a state championship last year, kept aiming for a second-straight title — something never done in this tiny town about an hour north of Beaumont. And the Eagles won another, but they overcame and persevered. After going up 21-0 at the half, Newton held on and intercepted a late pass to seal the 21-16 over panhandle power Canadian.

When the on-field, post-game interviews switched from Coach Johnson to Newton’s Josh Foster, he said the coach meant everything to the team and that “they love him.”

“We played this game to win it for him,” Foster said. “He’s a big motivation to our team, so we played it for him. To do it two years in a row, he didn’t even think he was going to make it to this day … but I’m glad he did.”

Shortly after Coach Johnson’s interview on the field, he was greeted by Chris Koetting, coach of the losing Canadian Wildcats. Johnson stood from his wheelchair and embraced his brethren of high school religion in Texas. Just about anyone could tell the game meant more than who won or lost, who got the gold or silver medal or who hoisted the championship trophy.

Canadian is no slouch by any means in Texas football, having won a recent pair of state titles in 2014 and 2015.

After the Eagles intercepted the pass to seal the win over fellow 3A power Canadian, and with seconds winding down to double zeroes, Newton players strolled by to embrace their coach, and friend.

“I love you, coach,” most seemed to say as they hugged his neck.

"These guys have touched my life life, but it’s mutual," Johnson said. "They wanted to win for me. This is their time,” the coach said. “I’ve had my time. I told them do it for your teammates, do it for you.

"They’ll remember me. If I’ve done right, a part of me’s gonna live in them. And that’s the way I’ve always thought."

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