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How Jakob Johnson's path to football in Germany inspired him to give back to youth sports


The game of football was a savior for Jakob Johnson.

As a young boy from Stuttgart, Germany, Johnson had a hard time staying out of trouble. He described himself as someone who had disciplinary problems in school, with family and school administration eventually suggesting he get involved in sports. Only problem for Johnson was finding a sport he was passionate about.

"Wrestling, swimming, soccer, handball, basketball, I tried a whole bunch of sports," Johnson said. "Eventually I ended up with football and fell in love with it. That steered me off on a different path than I otherwise would've been on.

"Football caught me at a time in life when I didn't have a strong feeling of belonging. I was getting pulled in many different directions, so football really gave me something to strive for and a positive support system around me as well."

That game led to Johnson moving to America and playing four seasons at Tennessee, then going on to sign with the New England Patriots via the NFL International Pathway Program.

Now in his second season with the Las Vegas Raiders, he's become plugged in with the Greater Youth Sports Association (GYSA), an organization similar to the one in Germany that helped him find his love for sports as a child.

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According to the nonprofit, their mission is to leverage their three core values of sports, education and character to create an environment for youth that fosters growth, development and success.

GYSA has provided over 500 children the opportunity to participate in sports leagues and clinics in flag football, soccer and basketball, while also offering academic tutoring through a school-based program.

It hits home for Johnson as he feels a calling to pay it forward to the next generation of young athletes.

"I think sports are super powerful, especially for kids or youth in general," he said. "It can set you up on a different path in life. It can give you confidence and teach you a lot of things and keep you motivated.

"I figured that's something I wanted to get behind and [GYSA] provides opportunities for kids to get involved in sports that might not have the financial means necessarily to do that themselves and I felt that was a good thing."

Through his desire to help the organization, the Raiders fullback has started a gameday fundraising campaign. Johnson has committed to donate $1,000 for every rushing touchdown the team scores in a game, dating back to Oct. 9 when he began the partnership. Thanks to Josh Jacobs, the donation is currently up to $4,000 with hopefully more in store.

Johnson also selected GYSA as his nonprofit organization to represent for the annual league initiative, My Cause My Cleats, giving a GYSA student "free rein" to design the cleats. In early December, the student will meet with him in-person as they see the cleats together for the first time.

To promote an active and healthy lifestyle, the Las Vegas Raiders hosted their Stretch and Move Program during an NFL Play 60 initiative at Jack Dailey Elementary School.

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