Aynor High honored one of its best athletes ever this past weekend when the school retired the number 64 jersey that T.J. Johnson wore during his playing days with the Blue Jackets.
Although Johnson was in Cincinnati where he was preparing for Sunday’s NFL game against San Diego, the school retired his jersey number during a brief ceremony featuring members of his family during Friday night’s football game against West Columbus.
“I just think it was time for us to get his number retired,” Aynor football coach Jody Jenerette said. “He’s done so much for the school and the community.”
According to Jenerette, Johnson is the first Aynor player to make it to the NFL, and the second to have his jersey number retired, joining Will Andrew as the only other Blue Jacket to receive that tribute.
“It’s definitely a tremendous honor,” Johnson said Monday night from Cincinnati. “Aynor is a place that will always be dear to me and having my jersey number retired means a lot.”
Although he would have enjoyed being at the ceremony, Johnson said things worked out for the best.
“That’s one of the things Jody said when he called to tell me about it,” Johnson said. “He said you better not be able to make it. If it had been outside of football season, I would have wanted to be there.”
Johnson’s parents, Allison and Tony participated in the ceremony along with other members of his family.
“It was cool looking on Facebook and seeing all of their smiling faces,” he said.
The 25-year-old was inducted into the Aynor High School Athletic Hall of Fame during a ceremony at a basketball game this past winter.
“I can remember walking through the gym as a student and seeing all the people on that list and wishing I could be on there,” he said. I grew up looking at that wall and always wanted to be on it. It’s a big honor.”
In addition to family, Johnson has many friends in the area and talks with some of his former teammates several times a week. Johnson also has a lot of fond memories regarding his time at Aynor High School.
“The big thing is all the good times and the good memories,” he said. “Jody was a fantastic coach and a fun coach to play for. It was a wonderful time. I still keep in touch with everyone back home.”
Johnson played on the offensive line at Aynor. He earned all-state honors and played in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas before heading off to the University of South Carolina.
Now 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, Johnson played center and guard at USC where he started 53 consecutive games for the Gamecocks, including four straight victories over rival Clemson.
“They gave me an opportunity and I was fortunate enough not to get hurt,” he said. “It helped me get where I am today.”
After graduating from USC, Johnson was signed by Cincinnati as a member of its practice squad. He has been on the 53-man active roster the past two years, serving as a backup at center and both guard positions. The team is currently 2-0 and Johnson is hoping for a great season.
“I think the Bengals can be really good,” he said. “I think we’re in the toughest conference in football. My goal is to help out any way I can. Playing in the NFL is a dream come true. When you’re playing college football you have dreams and aspirations of one day playing at that level. Now that I’m here it’s a dream come true.”
Johnson appreciates all the support he has received through the years.
“I think I’ve had a tremendous support system no matter where I go,” he said. “The ongoing joke among my Clemson friends is that I’m now a Tiger. It’s all in good fun.”
Jenerette said Johnson worked very hard to get where he is today.
“He was the hardest working kid I’ve ever had,” he said. “I think he proved a lot of people wrong.”
Jenerette is also excited that Johnson could be part of the Aynor community for a long time. He said Johnson married an Aynor girl, is building a home here and will likely settle in the area after his playing days are over.
“He has deep roots here,” Jenerette said.