ATHENS, GA – One of Georgia’s biggest football fans will be at the college football playoff championship Monday night to cheer on the Bulldogs against Alabama.
For Taeden Johnson, his connection to Georgian football is more than what happens on the pitch.
In the early hours of January 27, 2021, Taeden woke up to smoke and fire in his family’s trailer in Athens.
“When I came out of my room, the entire left side of the house was on fire,” he said. “I ran to my mother’s room and tried to knock on the door to get her up.”
Taeden escaped and ran to his neighbors to seek help for his mother Penyade, his grandmother Penny and his 9-year-old sister Mariah. The neighbors must have held Taeden back.
“They didn’t want me to go back in there,” he said Steve Gehlbach of Channel 2.
“But did you try? Gehlbach asked.
“Several times,” Taeden replied.
The 13-year-old has physically recovered from second-degree burns to his back. Emotionally, it is always difficult to deal with the loss of her three family members.
Georgia’s football program heard about the tragedy. Two weeks after the fire, the team invited Taeden to train where he met coaches and players, where he received a jersey and the chance to train with the Dawgs.
“It made me forget what happened,” he said.
“I went, a little hesitant, I didn’t know what to say, but he had a big smile on his face. Had such a positive attitude and just shocked me, ”head coach Kirby Smart told ESPN, which airs the championship game on Monday night.
ESPN’s College Gameday featured Taeden on their special ahead of Georgia’s Orange Bowl victory over Michigan.
“I got to know him on a deeper level. He’s a strong kid and what happened was not the end of the world for him. I think that’s what makes him strong, ”said Smart.
Taeden even got the chance to face his favorite player, Georgian half-back Zamir White. He beat him.
“Even though he gave me a 40-yard lead,” he told Gehlbach.
Since training last spring, the Dawgs have given Taeden something worth more than football.
“They keep texting me, ‘How are you? What are you today Do you want to do this, do that? ‘ Taeden said, “They are like big brothers. “
Taeden now has a chance to return some of that support. He wasn’t there for Georgia’s big Orange Bowl victory on New Years Eve. Taeden will be in Indianapolis for the college football playoff championship.
“I’m excited… I’m going to watch Georgia beat Alabama.”
Taeden not only wants to thank the UGA and the football team, but the entire Athens community for supporting him and his older sister who was not at home when the fire broke out.
A GoFundMe has raised over $ 250,000 to take care of the family. It was set up by Taeden’s mentor, who will accompany him to the game on Monday.
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