Rahmir Johnson almost didn’t play for Tyson Pratcher. And if Johnson hadn’t played for Tyson Pratcher and the Harlem Jets — the youth program in front of which Johnson announced his commitment on May 5 — perhaps the 4-star running back wouldn’t have joined the Nebraska football team’s 2019 recruiting class.
But 10-year-old Rahmir Johnson did play for Pratcher, a Harlem Jets volunteer, about seven years ago.
“It’s an interesting story,” Pratcher told Land of 10. “He’d actually played for a team the year before out in Staten Island. And his mother moved to Harlem. He played for us.
“I saw him because he was at the front of the line and kind of doing everything I asked. So I said, ‘Hey, you’ve played football before?’ And he kind of said, ‘Yeah, I was on a team last year, but I never actually got in.’ ”
Johnson’s past football experience left him with a bad taste for the game and he eventually stopped attending Jets practices. Pratcher wondered where the speedy running back went.
“So we went back through all our books and figured out who he was and called his mom,” Pratcher said. “I was like, ‘Where is he? And she was like, ‘I don’t know if he’s going to play anymore. He didn’t have a lot of success last year — doesn’t look like he’s going to play this year.’ ”
Pratcher told Johnson’s mother that football could have a huge effect on the boy’s life. Even though Johnson was 10 and Pratcher coached the 11-and-under team, he promised Johnson a starting spot on his squad. That worked out well, with Johnson’s positive attitude and work ethic apparent from the beginning.
“If you have great effort plus athleticism, decent chance [you’ll play]!” was Pratcher’s main pitch to Johnson’s mother. The next week, her son was back at practice.
“You ask anybody about Rahmir. He’s the first guy at practice, front of the line, runs every sprint like it’s the Super Bowl,” said Pratcher, whose career is in finance.
That’s not how Johnson recalls their meeting, though. He remembers beating the fastest kid on the team, with Pratcher shuttling him over to a scale to make sure he was heavy enough to play.
With Johnson off to a Big Ten school to put on the pads for a tradition-rich program, Pratcher could not be happier and prouder with how everything has worked out. Everybody with the Harlem Jets is a volunteer. They live to impact youths’ lives, but it had never gotten to this degree.
“The best part about it is he’s kind of what you want in an example,” Pratcher said. “He’s not a kid who showed up and it was easy for him.”
It took elbow grease for Johnson to reach this point. He outworked the guy next to him. Several kids on the Jets possessed more talent. The mentor sometimes finds it hard to believe the mentee grew up to be a 4-star prospect.
“He just kind of used that to kind of push himself,” Pratcher said. “It’s a great example for us. You don’t always have to be the biggest kid or the fastest kid or the best kid. You just gotta keep going, keep showing up, keep working hard and, hell, you might end up being a 4-star.”
2-hour commute and mold create a family
Just as Johnson was starting high school at Bergen Catholic across the river in New Jersey, his mother moved from Harlem to Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Wake-up calls at 4:30 a.m. became a necessity.
“He was like, ‘I don’t care what time I get up, I’m going to Bergen Catholic. So if it’s 4:30, it’s 4:30,’ ” Pratcher remembers.
Back in Harlem, Pratcher and his wife, Joy, had a mold problem in their apartment. They temporarily rented a place in New Jersey while the issue was being taken care of, which corresponded with the timing of Johnson’s move.
“So we said, ‘Hey, why don’t you stay with us during the week and you’ll go home on the weekends. We’ll just figure it out,’ ” Pratcher said to Johnson. “Ultimately, my wife and I decided, ‘Hey, we’re just going to stay here when you graduate.’ ”
Pratcher admits it wasn’t the easiest conversation to have with Joy. But the newlyweds’ philosophy went along the lines of “Put a little more water in the soup, and that should do the trick.”
Johnson still gets home to Brooklyn on the weekends and occasionally during the week.
“But it’s tough,” Pratcher said.
Football practice can last until 8 p.m. There are school priorities. A two-hour commute to Brooklyn makes all of that nearly impossible, which is why Johnson is grateful for the hospitality. In turn, he has become a part of the Pratcher family.
Pratcher has two daughters — Jett, 6, and Tai, 3.
“It’s been great,” Pratcher said. “You ask either one of them if they have a brother, they’ll tell you yes. Their brother’s name is Rahmir. He’s been a part of our family since he was 10.”
Johnson said he feels like a part of the family.
“I love every single one of them,” he told Land of 10. “It’s like having another family, as well as mine.”
Pratcher purports that Johnson could afford to be more loquacious. Meanwhile, Jett and Tai handle the talking for him the minute he walks through the door after practice. He’s immediately peppered with questions from the duo regarding the day’s intricacies. What homework does he have tonight? How was football practice? What did he eat for lunch? Does he still not have a girlfriend?
“You want to see somebody uncomfortable?” Pratcher said. “You watch those two girls sit on his lap, hug him and start asking him questions.”
Tai and Jett also are apparently among the newest members of Big Red Nation.
“They were pretty excited about the Nebraska thing,” Pratcher said. “They were supposed to be at their grandmother’s house the day he announced. They were like ‘No, no, no. We’re going with Rahmir.’ My 6-year-old was pretty adamant there was no way that was happening without her.”
The purpose of the Jets extends beyond football. It helps provide kids with guiding forces outside of the home. If they need anything off the field, the coaches are there for them.
Pratcher served as one of Johnson’s most valued counselors during his decision process. Pratcher advised him to go somewhere he was wanted and where others would care for him — a place to set him up for the future.
“So I have a story to tell when I’m done with college,” Johnson said. “ … He was a big part in helping with my decision.”
Johnson wasn’t the first kid to live with the Pratchers in a pinch. He is, however, the longest-tenured guest.
“If you meet him, you’ll want him to succeed,” Pratcher said. “He’s a humble kid who’s really just focused on like, ‘How can I make my life better?’ ”
And that goes way beyond the football field — at home, on the bus, in the classroom.
“You meet some guys who just expect you to do things for them,” Pratcher said. “That’s really not who he is. He’s appreciative of everything that you do and rewards it with the effort.
“It’s been a pretty amazing thing to watch and be a part of. My wife and I, I think we’re all just super proud of him.”