Paris Johnson Jr. Foundation Wins Armed Forces Merit Award for Service to Veterans and Others in Need

By Dan Hope on November 11, 2022 at 12:32 pm
Paris Johnson Jr.

The Paris Johnson Jr. Foundation is the winner of this year’s Armed Forces Merit Award.

The Ohio State left tackle’s charitable foundation was officially recognized Friday during a Veterans Day appearance on ESPN’s SportsCenter as the winner of this year’s award, which annually honors an individual and/or a group with a military background and/or involvement that has an impact within the realm of college football.

“This is a huge honor,” Johnson said during his interview with ESPN. “I believe that Jesus had the ultimate sacrifice when he gave his life for all of our sins. But the second greatest one is every veteran that served because they have given their life and their mind and their body and their time in order to create the safety that we have here in the United States, for me to enjoy the game that I love and to be in. So I feel like I would like to use the platform that they've allowed me to have by serving our country to be able to give back to them when they come back. So they don't have to worry about certain needs.”

Johnson’s foundation was chosen as this year’s winner by the Football Writers Association of America to recognize the work he and his foundation have done to help veterans and others in need. Since Johnson launched his foundation, he has raised more than $10,000 for five different charities and served over 100 veterans.

“The foundation established by Paris and his mother is very unique where a student-athlete and his family are actively involved with helping military veterans,” Brant Ringler, executive director of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, said in a news release announcing Johnson as the winner of the award. “While playing a key role on one of the nation’s top collegiate football teams, what Paris is accomplishing through his foundation is remarkable. We hope at least one player on every college football program in the United States can follow the exemplary example that Paris has set.”

Events hosted by the Paris Johnson Jr. Foundation have included a winter coat drive earlier this fall, a Christmas gift drive last winter and an event for homeless veterans last fall. The foundation will support upcoming events in both Columbus and Springdale, Ohio, later this month to provide Thanksgiving meals to people in need, while it will also host a Christmas toy drive in December to provide toys for children of veterans.

Ryan Day, who wrote a letter to the FWAA to support Johnson’s candidacy for the award, is as proud of what Johnson has done off the field as he is of Johnson’s performance as Ohio State’s left tackle on the field, where he has performed well enough this season also to be named a semifinalist for the Rotary Lombardi Award.

“He's always been well-rounded,” Day said last month after Johnson was announced as a finalist for the award. “His mom Monica has done an unbelievable job raising him. And Paris has a really good balance of football and life. He's done a lot. He has a foundation, and he's done very well on the field.

“We saw that in recruiting. And I think that's where he saw the culture here at Ohio State, recognized what the culture was here and recognized what Ohio State could do for him. But also, we recognized early on what Paris Johnson could do for Ohio State. So I think it's been a great marriage, and in three short years, he’s made a major impact here.”

Ohio State offensive line coach Justin Frye said he wasn’t surprised to see Johnson win the award because of the type of person he’s come to know Johnson to be since Frye became Ohio State’s offensive line coach in January.

“He's just an A1A human being. If he has free time, it's going to be given to others,” Frye said Friday. “He's not doing it for a trophy. He's not doing it for the recognition. He's doing it because it's the right thing, and there's not enough of those people in the world doing it, so really awesome that we can recognize him.”

Johnson credits his mother, Monica Daniels, with making it possible for him to run a foundation – which he started when he was still in high school – while also playing football for the Buckeyes.

“She's really helped me balance everything on the field and off the field and being able to be able to do the daily tasks and creating the next steps for my foundation is really amazing,” Johnson said. “Growing up, I always told my mom that when I have the chance to play in the NFL, I wanted to use that money to be able to give back to people and I wanted to use that platform of being an NFL player to be able to spread awareness about the things that I found that are very important, and I told this to my mom since I was five years old.

“And then in high school, she was like, ‘You know what, I've been praying about it. And I think that we should have start our own foundation.’ And we started to do the research on it. And my mom being a lot more knowledgeable within myself with me just be able to start high school, she helped me with all the paperwork and trying to file all that stuff to create a full nonprofit.”

Daniels, who said she was “at a loss for words” and fighting back tears when she found out her son had won the award, said Johnson’s maturity from a young age has enabled him to run a foundation and give back to others all the while achieving success on the football field and in the classroom.

“He's a very passionate individual, so once he knows that he wants to pursue something, he's going to pursue it with everything within him. And it was my job just to support, walk alongside him and help him make these things be realized,” Daniels said. “With the season going, as well as volunteering, can be challenging, but it's not for him because he's able to manage it all. He's great with his time management. And he and I work very closely together when we're planning out different activities. And Paris is there from the very beginning to the very end. So I'm just there in place to help him with logistics.”

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