James Johannesson can recall the impact older athletes have on youth. When former South High (Fargo, N.D.) track star Brock Larson, who became a state champion in the pole vault and javelin, mentored him as an eighth-grader, Johannesson said it fed his dream of winning a state championship.
“You get back what you give,” Johannesson said. “I want to be a good influence so young players can hopefully achieve like I have.”
That’s why Johannesson is known to walk around the weight room correcting his teammates as they lift before convincing them to perform extra reps.
That selfless intent manifests itself in other aspects of his life — from teaching youth football and hockey players to spending time with the elderly.
Johannesson’s commitment to putting others before himself is being recognized by USA TODAY High School Sports and the Army National Guard with the Inspiration Award, presented to 15 student-athletes across the nation who go above and beyond in their communities, and whose loyalty inspires others to better themselves.
South football coach Troy Mattern described Johannesson as a self-made leader who is never satisfied with his success.
“James is one of those kids who you develop your program around,” Mattern said. “What he does, his teammates follow suit.”
Though they were both captains last season, senior safety Dallas Raftevold said he looked up to Johannesson because he constantly pushed him to exceed beyond his expectations.
“He’s not about himself,” Raftevold said. “He’s about others. He wants to make everyone around him better.”
It paid off last season when the two-time all-state running back led the Bruins to a 9-3 record en route to capturing the Class 3A state championship. Johannesson ended his junior season at South last year by accumulating school records for rushing yards in a game (331), season (2,671) and career (4,126). His motivation stems from his teammates, hence why he constantly concerns himself with making them better.
Johannesson, who also excels in hockey and track, is equally committed to helping future Bruins. He spends his summers assisting with youth camps, where he instructs football players on cutting techniques and ballhandling skills. He also guides youth hockey players, teaching them how to skate, along with stick skills.
“His presence around kids is impressive,” Mattern said. “He’s really good at getting them excited and interested in athletics. He understands that he was once that kid who looked up to a high school athlete and that someday he wanted to be that kid.”
Volunteering is as much a part of his life as sports. Though he splits his time between studying to maintain a 3.43 grade-point average and training for whichever sport is in season, he still finds time to visit Fargo’s Villa Maria Nursing Center to serve food and play bingo with the elderly.
“It hits home,” Johannesson said. “When I go there, I just want to help them as if they were my own grandparents.”
Mattern is hardly surprised by Johannesson’s willingness to give back.
“He carries himself in such a mature way,” Mattern said. “He’s a true role model.”