VANCLEAVE, MS (WLOX) - Brandy Johnson is a dedicated football parent. Every Friday night in the fall, she’s in the stands, cowbell in hand, cheering her son, Roy, on to victory.
“They need to put them big boys out there in front of him and block this time,” she joked to a friend.
As any mother of a football player would attest, every game can be a stressful experience.
“I’m a nervous wreck,” Johnson laughed when asked how she handles Friday nights.
But watching Roy compete brings its own set of challenges, challenges that first came to light when he was seven years old.
“I wasn’t able to do a lot of the stuff that I could do now," Roy said. "I couldn’t pour drinks or anything.”
“The first time he was standing at the kitchen table trying to pour his own drink, he was having an episode. Jerking, spilling stuff," his mother said. "We were like, what in the world is going on?”
“They thought I was having seizures, so they brought me to the hospital and diagnosed me,” Roy said.
The diagnosis? Tourette’s Syndrome, on top of anxiety and asthma.
“They were like oh, it’s ticks, it may go away in a few years, most kids grow out of it,” Brandy said. “Well, he’s 17 (and) he’s never grown out of it.”
If you sit with Roy for a little while, you'll see what she means.
“Most of the time I don’t know I’m doing it, so it’s pretty chill,” Johnson said. “But then other times, I won’t be able to do something that I want to do. I won’t be able to talk sometimes.”
Instead, Johnson lets his plays on the field do the talking.
Johnson joined the Vancleave football program when he was in middle school and hasn’t looked back. He’s now one of the senior leaders of the team, the starting quarterback, and the starting kicker.
When asked which he prefers?
“Not as many people trying to hit you (when kicking)," Johnson laughed. "Quarterback is funner, though.”
Johnson refuses to let his condition stand in his way, so much so that Bulldogs head coach Lavon Capers didn’t even know until Roy’s sophomore year.
“It never comes up as far as ‘what are we gonna do if something happens with Roy?’ It’s never an issue,” Capers said. “It’s never an issue because he doesn’t make it an issue.”
“I don’t feel sorry for myself," Johnson said. "I know I have a job to do so I just put everything else behind me, do the job I gotta do, and help everybody else do their job.”
And so, those Friday nights may be a little more stressful for Brandy Johnson, but she takes comfort in the fact that her son can enjoy a normal high school experience.
“He (doesn’t) take the medicine they prescribe him because it messes up the way he plays sports. He would rather play sports, so it helps him a lot. He goes on that field, and he’s just like any other kid,” Johnson said.
And that’s exactly what Roy wants. He’s not just someone who has Tourette’s. He’s a high school senior, the starting quarterback. But, if Roy’s story can be an inspiration for even one person, he’s happy to tell it.
“I hope it helps them get through what they’re going through, help them look up to me, (look up to) what I do and help them get past what they’re doing,” Johnson said.
“You can succeed, you can be successful in life, even if you do have to deal with something as serious as Tourette’s,” Capers added.
“As a parent, I was scared for him to play sports, you know?" Johnson said. "But other parents, if you think your kid’s gonna get picked on or you think they can’t do it, let them try, because when he tried it was a natural fit. And, he’s really good at it.”
Adjusting to life in high school could be quite difficult for someone with Roy’s condition, but he and his mother both thank the Vancleave community for their constant support in providing Roy the high school experience that everyone deserves.