Tysheem Johnson is a true freshman who has been a force on the Landshark defense this season. Every time you look at him, you might see the 44 tackles, interception and pass deflection he’s accomplished in his first few games as a college athlete. But everytime he wakes up in Oxford, Mississippi, and looks in the mirror, it’s a true testament of just how far he’s come.
Unlike so many players on the Ole Miss roster, Tysheem “Sheem” Johnson is not from the South. He is from North Philadelphia, one of the roughest parts of the United States. Over a century ago, “North Philly” was one of the most booming parts of the country. Manufacturing took over the East Coast, and with it, brought a booming economy and surplus of wealth for those who lived there. However, the Great Depression hit Philadelphia hard, due to outsourcing and a significant loss of population. The major population loss is attributed to the phenomenon during the 1950’s and ‘60’s known as “white flight.” White flight is the sudden or gradual large-scale migration of white people from areas becoming more racially or ethnoculturally diverse. According to the 2010 United States Census, most of North Philadelphia’s population is made up of African-Americans and Puerto Ricans. Only 10.1% of the population is white.
Growing up in North Philly is hard, but growing up a young black man in North Philly is harder. Currently, citizens are fighting to limit the amount of gun violence that is happening at an astronomically high rate. The crime in North Philly is also skyrocketing, with the majority of the crime having to do with the drug trade.
“North Philly is very cruel. People like me don’t really go to certain functions or hang out on certain streets or blocks as we would say because there is a high chance of getting killed. I looked at it like, if I wanted to be a full-time football player, I have to watch how I move,” Johnson said. “Certain times, when a couple of my homies would want to go somewhere, into an area that I knew there was a risk that we would get into a fight or might get shot at, then I would just say that I’m not going, or we shouldn’t go. That’s how being around all of North Philly is, or really, Philly in general.”
Those who live or have been to North Philadelphia know that it isn’t a place to just wander around freely. Each move that you make has to be meticulous and calculated.
“In Philly, when you move around, you have to move around a certain way. You have to watch your back, watch your side, watch your front because it’s a lot of innocent people getting shot for no reason,” Johnson said. “In Oxford, it’s more like a real community. There is really no violence. We (football players) are here for a reason, and most people aren’t hateful like they are in Philly. People will compliment you when you’re out, and that just doesn’t happen in where I’m from.”
At his high school of Neumann-Goretti, Johnson received plenty of praise for his work ethic and athletic abilities. He was named his high school’s player of the decade, and was rated a four-star athlete heading into his senior season before early enrolling into Ole Miss in January of 2021.
When asked about how he got to that point instead of choosing a different path that is hard to escape from, he gave credit to one of his big brothers.
“At first when you start, there were a lot of kids that were better than me. I was always good (at football) growing up, but I was never the best on my team. Growing up, like on the streets, you can really get sucked into them fast. I believe that most of my friends decided to say that ‘football was too much, so I’m going to join the streets or try and start doing something else.’ How I basically got to where I am now is by staying the course. A big brother came to me and told me I wasn’t a full-time athlete,” Johnson said. “When he told me that, I was thinking ‘I go to practice everyday, I practice and play football on the weekends,’ so I didn’t understand what he meant. But it was what I was doing outside of football, always being in the streets and posting certain stuff that I shouldn’t. Once he told me that, it made me change and look at stuff differently. Maybe I need to be an actual full-time athlete. Once I had that mindset, I never looked back.”
He went through some adversity his junior year, and reflected on the times that he entered a dark place mentally.
“Tough times don’t last, tough people do. I would try and say that to myself every single day. I just basically tried to have a positive mindset that everything was going to be alright, even though there were a lot of times that I doubted that. I had to have faith and trust the process that I was going to overcome these obstacles,” Johnson said. “My favorite quote during that time was that ‘God gives the toughest battles to its strongest soldiers.’ I looked at everyone around me and realized that if they could handle their obstacles, then so could I. It was hard, but I knew that no matter what there wasn’t anything that I couldn’t handle.”
Everything did work itself out in the end, but during that same time, a very important decision had to be made. Johnson had over 20 college offers, including Penn State, Alabama, LSU and Maryland among others. He was highly sought after by schools across the country, and the sky was the limit for what he was going to do with his life. A lot of the time, student-athletes like to choose schools that are closer to home, but for Johnson, it was the opposite. So many factors go into recruiting and choosing where you will choose to take your talents to, however, choosing Ole Miss came easily.
“I didn’t want to go to Maryland because it was too close to home. It’s about three hours away from North Philly, and if I ever just didn’t have something else to do, I could have just gone home. I shouldn’t be home,” Johnson said. “Coming down South, it’s a smaller city. It’s easier to stay out of trouble. I picked it where I could be a household name and change a program around. I trusted coach Partridge’s word that I would be able to come in and start. Ole Miss just felt the most like home.”
Johnson has already created a better life for himself in under a year. Upon arrival in Oxford, he was named a 2021 Preseason True Freshman All-American by 247Sports. He’s succeeding in arguably the hardest conference in the country as an 18-year-old kid. It hasn’t always been easy, but for that he’s thankful. Oxford might be where he is now, but North Philly will always be home.
“I love North Philly so much because that’s where I am from and where I was born. It’s all I know, and it made me who I am today because I had to be tough and always aware of my surroundings. In Philly, I always had to keep my head on a swivel out there. It motivated me, and only a few athletes that I knew actually made it out to the college level, and then the streets basically took them. Seeing that every day, with them having so much talent, I just always knew that I couldn’t follow in their footsteps. I need to take a different path,” Johnson said. “There are a few people who I know that are successful and I just piggyback off of them and how they stay out of the way. I just try to mimic them as much as I can to get to where they’re at.”