If there’s one thing to come of Rahmir Johnson‘s commitment to Nebraska — other than a potentially successful career spanning several winning seasons in Lincoln — it’s that the prospect revealed himself as a planner.
Wanting to tell the coaching staff of his commitment, Johnson called Huskers running backs coach Ryan Held and coach Scott Frost on May 1 to inform them that, yes, he was theirs. But it had to be a secret. The 4-star running back had a trick up his sleeve, and it wasn’t the usual recruiting hoopla — no 2-minute, heavily edited video, no local television announcement, no news conference.
Just him and the Jets. The Harlem Jets.
Take a look at Johnson’s player profile on any recruiting website and you’ll see that he attends Bergen Catholic, a prominent program in northern New Jersey. He’s listed as a New Jersey native, which isn’t exactly correct.
Johnson is from across the state border to the east: New York City. Harlem, to be exact.
“I’m from New York,” he clarifies. “I go to school in Jersey.”
And it was with the Harlem Jets, a youth athletics organization that promotes sports as a way for kids to reach their full potential, that introduced Johnson to football and, thus, his ticket to Nebraska. When it came time to announce his commitment, Johnson went back to Harlem the morning of May 5, a beautiful Saturday in the city.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Jamel Wright, who founded the Jets 13 years ago and serves as the organization’s president. “We’ve had quite a few of our kids select colleges and go off to play college football. But that was the first time one of our guys actually made the selection in front of our kids, with the program a part of it. So it was a great experience for all involved.”
Wright has known Johnson for about eight years, he said. The mentor described the reaction from the kids and parents in attendance as “euphoric.”
“Everyone was screaming and hollering and clapping,” Wright remembers.
Understandably, there were members of Johnson’s inner circle who wanted him to pick Rutgers, one of the schools in his final four, so they could watch him play more frequently.
“But at the end of the day, he made an excellent choice,” Wright said. “We looked at what Nebraska has to offer. We’re hopeful that he can step right in and have a major impact.”
Johnson confided in Wright as he cut his list of schools to four and ultimately committed to Nebraska. All along, he wanted the community he grew up with to feel like it was part of his decision.
When Wright brought up the idea of making the commitment public in front of all the youth teams, Johnson was game.
“He said, ‘That’s a great idea. Let’s do it.’ ”
And so they did.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I think it would be a good idea to announce my commitment in front of the kids out in the city,’ ” Johnson said. “So they could see a person growing up like them, young [going to a Division I school]. I thought it would be good for the kids to see something like that, a nice thing to happen for the city of Harlem.”
Johnson is aware that he’s an anomaly as a football player from Harlem.
“You don’t get too many kids who play football to make it this far,” he said.
According to the 247Sports composite rankings, Johnson is the 19th-ranked running back and No. 316 overall prospect in the class.
The beauty of the Harlem Jets lies in their motto: “Once a Jet, always a Jet.” It’s something Johnson bought into after going through the program.
“Rahmir’s kind of always around the kids, around the program,” Wright said. “It lets them know that if you do the right thing and you work hard and you’re dedicated and you’re committed to, first and foremost, your academics, then to sports and so on and so forth, then you can attain a level of success without compromising your integrity and just by being a good guy.
“They view him as a good guy — a standup guy — and an honorable kid. That’s the kind of person they would all eventually like to develop into.”
Wright remembers Johnson as a shy 10-year-old.
“Rahmir’s always been a quiet, kind of introverted kid,” Wright said. “He showed up that way.”
Edward Alexander, affectionately known to those in the program as Coach A, lived in the same building as Johnson. The two used to walk to practice together, and Alexander was instrumental in getting Johnson to open up and develop into a polished young man.
“Rahmir’s always been a solid kid,” Wright said. “I’m not exaggerating by saying I can’t recall him giving me or any one of the coaches or anyone associated with the program a hard way to go about anything. He’s always been a good, honorable kid you could depend on. If he tells you he’s going to do something, he’s gonna do it. And he’s always led from the front.”
And now he’ll lead a sizable contingent of Harlem to Big Red fandom.