A 2013 graduate of Etowah, where he was a two-sport standout, Johnson worked his way back from the injury twice before attempting to revitalize his career with the upstart Kennesaw State football program. Eventually, he returned to baseball and was offered a scholarship by Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tenn.
“I was blessed enough to be able to play another sport,” Johnson said.
Johnson first injured his ACL 10 days prior to the first game of his junior year of high school. He had been named Etowah’s starting quarterback when he felt something pop during a routine non-contact drill.
“No one even touched me,” he said.
Johnson attempted to play through the injury, but, in the end, he underwent surgery at the end of the football season. In the spring, when baseball came around, he took the mound at Etowah, but because of the depth the Eagles had at the position, the left-hander didn’t log many innings.
Soon, it was football season again, and Johnson was named the Etowah starter once again, wearing the No. 7. Then, in the first quarter of the third game of the season at Pope, he tore the ACL again.
“That kind of ended it,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s parents, Christopher and Stacy, watched from the stands.
“Everyone was kind of on top of him,” Stacy Johnson said. “You keep seeing kids get up and you think, ‘Where’s 7? Where’s 7? (No.) 7’s not getting up,’ and there 7 is on the ground. Immediately, we looked at each other and I knew it was his knee. The stands were completely silent.”
By the time the Johnsons joined their son on the sidelines, Reeves had tears in his eyes.
“He was sitting there with the trainer, forehead to forehead, and you could see in their eyes that they both knew it was done,” Stacy Johnson said.
Once more surgery, and another grueling period of rehabilitation followed. Reeves Johnson said it wasn’t easy watching from the sidelines as someone played the position he felt should have been his.
“It was hard to see someone else do my job,” he said. “I felt like I wasn’t part of the team. You just stand there every Friday night, and it’s hard, but you get over it and move past it.”
Johnson opted not to play baseball during his senior year, instead focusing on finding a college where he could play football. When that didn’t look like it was going to happen, he made plans to attend the University of Alabama and just try being a student.
But in a turn of events, Kennesaw State football coach Brian Bohannon offered what seemed to be the perfect solution.
Years earlier, while he was an assistant coach at Georgia Tech, Bohannon had started recruiting Johnson. In his new role as Kennesaw State’s head coach, he remembered Johnson and wanted him to give football another shot.
“I didn’t know Reeves real when he first got injured, but to see a kid come back from something like that twice tells you a lot about a guy,” Etowah football coach Dave Svehla, whose first year was Johnson’s junior season. “It tells you that he can do just about anything he sets his mind to.”
Johnson enrolled at Kennesaw State last fall and began working out with other athletes hoping to earn a place on the university’s inaugural football team.
In the spring, however, when the Owls held open tryouts and welcomed their first signing class, Bohannon had bad news for Johnson.
“He said he didn’t have a spot for me anymore,” Johnson said.
Instead of giving up on his dream of playing in college, Johnson refocused.
Christopher Johnson said part of that focus came from knowing that there are “bigger plans that come from bigger places.”
“I think (Reeves) feels pretty confident that he knows where he is supposed to be now,” Christopher Johnson said. “When he was going through this for the second time, we just said, this has to be happing for a reason. We just might not know what the reasons are quite yet.”
Reeves Johnson got in touch with his former East Cobb Baseball coach, Jim Merkling, and started playing baseball again. Scouts start started watching Johnson play, and colleges began contacting him all over again.
“If it wasn’t for (Merkling), none of this would have happened,” he said.
Johnson doesn’t plan to end his career at Volunteer State. He hopes to transfer to a team in the Atlantic Coast or Southeast conferences to continue his baseball career, but if that doesn’t work out, he has a backup plan to keep him close to the action.
Johnson plans to study health science at Volunteer State, with the goal of either becoming an orthopedic surgeon or a physical therapist. Academically, Johnson will be a sophomore, though he has not exhausted any athletic eligibility.
“I’m going to earn my degree,” Johnson said. “I want to move on to a bigger school and live my dream.”
Those academic pursuits are driven by the experiences he has had as an athlete who’s suffered an injury.
Johnson began playing sports when he was 4 years old. During the spring and summer, he would play baseball, while it was football in the fall. He said earning his role as Etowah’s varsity quarterback as a junior was a dream come true.
“It was what I wanted my whole life,” Johnson said. “We had a good team. I was excited. I was starting to get looks from schools, and colleges kept calling me, and I was getting letters from schools. It was exciting. Then, all of it went away real fast.”
Etowah baseball Greg Robinson, who coached Johnson during his sophomore and junior seasons, said he’s glad to see his former player getting another chance.
“I was talking to his parents not long ago and was just delighted to hear that Reeves is going to get a chance to play baseball,” Robinson said. “I was hoping he was going to get to play college football, because he was a good quarterback, too. Gosh, he ran into some tough luck with all those surgeries and blowing his knee out a couple of times. It is just a tribute to what kind of resilience the kid had for reaching his goal of playing college athletics.”
Robinson said athletes like Johnson, who keep pressing on despite adversity, are the ones who have good stories to tell.
“I think his story will be a good encouragement for some kids,” Robinson said.
Johnson will report to the Volunteer State campus in two weeks. In addition to taking classes in the fall, he will be playing some baseball, as teams are allowed to play fall games at the junior-college level.
“We’ll play games for the first two or three months and then, when it starts getting colder, it will just be workouts,” Johnson said. “Then, we come back for a full season in the spring.”
When Johnson takes the mound for the first time this fall, his parents plan on being there. Stacy Johnson said what makes her proud is that her son never gave up, even when that would have been the easier thing to do.
“He just always said that this had been his life-long dream and he would look back one day and be sorry that he didn’t try it,” she said. “So I think, as parents, we are just excited that he never took no for an answer, because I don’t think that he would be sitting here with this kind of opportunity if he didn’t have that attitude and the support from people that love him.”