Sometime in late February, after watching some family friends compete in a youth soccer game, Xavier Johnson sat in a small tent enjoying the cool weather when his cell phone suddenly began ringing.
Johnson, a two-way starting lineman at Lawton High, didn’t recognize the number, and he wasn’t expecting any calls that evening. For all he knew, it could’ve been a telemarketer attempting to prod him into buying a product or service he had no use for at 17 years old.
However, against his better judgement, Johnson decided to answer.
He doesn’t remember every detail of the conversation that followed — he doesn’t want to — but even nearly seven months later, he hasn’t been able to get it out of his head.
Hey, is this Xavier Johnson?
Is your mom Sonya Johnson?
Well … I’m your father.
Those are words Johnson thought he’d never hear. His mind and his heart were racing, a slew of emotions came rushing to him all at once.
What was he supposed to say? After all, this man claiming to be his father abandoned him and his mother only a couple of days after Johnson was born.
All the questions he’d been asking his entire life could finally be answered.
Why did he leave? Where has he been? Why hasn’t he reached out?
Despite his curiosity, Johnson said there was only one way he could think to respond.
“I didn’t know what to say, so I just hung up,” Johnson said.
After going for so long without the answers he desired, Johnson said the expiration date on those questions had come to pass. It just took hearing his father’s voice for the first time to realize that reality.
“I think I was just seeing red,” Johnson said. “He tried calling me some more, but I just didn’t answer it. Then I blocked his number, and that was pretty much it. I didn’t really try to give him a chance because, in my mind, he was gone all 17 years and he waited 17 years to call, so I didn’t really have anything else to say to him.”
To this day, Johnson still doesn’t know the exact reason for his father leaving. And given the man’s distance from the rest of the family, Johnson is unsure of how his father got his number.
The attempted re-entrance of Johnson’s father into his life created even more questions than answers.
“When I told my mom about it, she asked me what I said because she didn’t know how, either,” Johnson said. “It’s just kind of odd to me because none of my family members here know him and would be able to give him my number. And as far as I know, he doesn’t have my mom’s number, and in my eyes, I think that’s good.”
Although Johnson, now 18, has shut the door on reconciliation with his father for now, he’s not ruling out the possibility of returning to it later on in life.
“I’ve had a lot of my family members and a lot of people in general say I need to sit down and have a conversation with him,” Johnson said. “Usually every time I talk about it, though, I just see red. I don’t know exactly how to put it in words, but I do feel like later on, when the time is right, I’ll be able to sit down with him and meet the other side of my family.”
Children from broken homes are sometimes linked to mental health issues and criminal activity, but thanks to the love and support from Johnson’s family and friends, he has overcome the absence of a permanent father figure.
When Johnson was in the 6th grade, he lived near a park with a basketball court and would routinely make the short trip to shoot baskets. Johnson was a shy kid at the time, but one day he met a pair of twins — Royal and Damion — and the three connected almost instantly.
From then on, the trio would meet almost every weekend to play basketball at that park.
“Come to find out, our moms knew each other, and we had the same last name though we weren’t related at all,” Johnson said. “Ever since then, they took me in as a little brother, we do pretty much everything together and we’re always there for each other.
“They help take my mind off a lot of things, including that my father didn’t want to be there for me.”
Even with friends, though, things weren’t always easy at home.
Johnson’s mom, Sonya, had to work long hours to support the family. On top of that, Johnson had to deal with the passing of his grandmother, who had a major impact on him as a tyke.
His mother’s strength and work ethic, along with the assistance of other family members, drove him to become the hardworking young man he is today so he can one day repay his debts to them.
“One of my cousins took the role as my grandmother, so she tried to teach me a lot of things,” Johnson said. “My uncle, he was a big part of my life, too, even though he lived in Texas. I used to go down there for Christmas, and he helped me through a lot of things.
“My mom, just watching her work so hard, motivated me to step up and work hard so I can one day take her out of her job and allow her to lay back and relax.”
Johnson’s unyielding will to be the person his father never was has also led him to do great things on the football field.
The numbers 5 and 55 have great significance at LHS, and whichever players don the iconic digits become immediately etched in the rich history of the Wolverines’ football lore.
LHS coach Ryan Breeze said the program adopted the idea from USC.
“No. 5 is our best skill kid, best teammate, hardest worker and weight room leader,” Breeze said. “USC, their guys defensively would always wear 55. They have a long lineage of bad dudes who wore 55, so we wanted to carry that over. We want our 55 to be a weight room warrior who’s going to be a phenomenal practicer.
“He is not one of those guys who just shows up when the lights are on — he gets after it.”
Johnson said he learned of the tradition during his freshman season, and from then on, he was determined to earn the designation and become a leader for the Wolverines.
His hard work didn’t go unnoticed, and on Aug. 17, a day after LHS’s first preseason scrimmage against Edmond North, he was officially announced as the new No. 55, replacing the graduated Kairi Grant as the digit’s holder.
“My freshman year, 55 and 5 were Stevie Youmans and Meordrick Shoemake,” Johnson said. “Just watching them and how they practiced and the way they took the game, it motivated me, and I wanted to go above and beyond doing that. After this offseason, I kind of had the feeling I was going to get it – it was either going to be me or Hector Becerra. It drove me to work harder, regardless of whether I got 55 or 5, because I wanted to show that I am a hard worker.
“The coaches must’ve seen it in me.”