Cardinal Ritter assistant football coach Jimmy Collins wants the St. Louis African-American prep sports community to know, former friend and community foundation leader Demetrius Johnson may have died last December, but his legacy and outreach activities will definitely live on. Thus, the Demetrius Johnson Foundation held its annual HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) Black College Football combine and camp for high school seniors recently at Cardinal Ritter.
“He (Johnson) was one of my very best friends in all the world,” beamed Collins. “I’m now the president of the foundation and I have every intention of continuing it.”
Reggie Blackwell, also a longtime foundation assistant, who played his college football at Kansas State, a former conference rival of Mizzou, where Johnson was a star defensive back, said the camp’s value is as important as ever.
“Number one DJ (Johnson) was a tremendous friend and mentor,” relayed Blackwell. “I want to be there for him to help carry on this legacy because I know how important it was to him. He has done so much for the community. Coming here is just a small price to pay to continue his legacy.”
Johnson, who died on Christmas Eve 2022 at 61 of a rare heart condition, had been a mainstay for local charitable causes for over two decades, even before his retirement from the National Football League, where he was a starting defensive back for several seasons with the Detroit Lions through the early 1990s. His best-known activities include hosting an annual Christmas party for youths at downtown hotels and going door-to-door in communities the weekend before Thanksgiving with free turkeys. A large contingent of volunteers, from all walks of life have participated with him over the years.
The football combine, which is an avenue for black colleges to assess their skills in a camp setting, had not been going on but a few years in relative comparison to the other ventures. But that’s all the more reason to sustain the tradition of it, said DeAndre Campbell, a former longtime Public High League and North County area high school coach.
“We started this several years ago as a way for our kids to get exposure to HBCU schools,” said Campbell, who won two league championships as coach of the Roosevelt Rough Riders. “We’ve got to keep the tradition going in the city. I’m not going to stop participating when this was the main goal of the coaches.”
The coaches offering instructions at the camp ran the gamut from Blackwell and Campbell to over a dozen HBCU colleges from the deep South region.
“I will continue to come to these camps in memory of DJ and what he did for the community,” said Terry Sims, now a coach at Alabama State University, after leaving Bethune Cookman College in Florida, where he had been the head coach since 2014.”We think it’s important to continue giving back to the community because it was so important for DJ to keep mentoring young people.”
Collins would certainly attest to that, as evidenced by what he told a group of campers in one session: “I’m humbled to give you this opportunity. You can tell someone next year (in college) that you got that opportunity here,” he said.
Collins, who was an offensive assistant to head coach Brennan Spain’s 14-0 Missouri Class 3 state champion team this past season, which averaged over 40 points per contest and never trailed in a game after the third quarter, said the camp will continue to be a spring ritual. Last spring it was held at Gateway Stem High.
“We’ll never leave the city and hopefully the city will never leave us,” assured Collins.
Below left to right: Jimmy Collins, new president of the Demetrius Johnson Foundation and a Cardinal Ritter coach, talks to camp participants at the recent Black College Football camp at Cardinal Ritter, where Demetrius Johnson’s legacy (center photo) lives on. The camp drew over a dozen HBCU coaches from around the country, including Terry Sims (shown as coach of Bethune-Cookman in Florida in far right promo) but now a coach at Alabama State.