UK Football: Summer trip to Prague helped Tristian Johnson develop his leadership skills
Kentucky defensive tackle Tristian Johnson (51) said a summer trip to Prague was an awesome experience, and even better since he learned leadership training. (Clay Jackson / September 26, 2012)
He went to Prague, the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic, for a 2 1/2 weeks with teammates Aaron Boyd, Trevino Woods and E.J. Fields along with student-assistant coach Glenn Holt as part of a campus leadership program developed by Dr. Tricia Dyk, a professor in the Department of Community and Leadership Development.
“It was really awesome. It was a new experience for a small town guy like me. To go outside the country and see something that the majority of people from my hometown or my family have never seen before was a great experience,” said Johnson. “What made the icing on top of the cake was that I got to learn leadership.
“I was out of my environment. You can learn leadership and always go back to my teammates and go to my family, but this time I was among classmates and some people I¿had never met before along with my teammates and I¿had to learn to do things on my own outside my circle. That was good for me.”
He said it was almost fate that allowed him to make the trip. He actually heard UK¿offensive lineman Kevin Mitchell talk about the trip while they were in UK’s academic center.
“He was going to go and I was like, ‘If you are going,¿I am going to try and go.’ I did all the little stuff that came with it by sitting in class all semester long and then I finally got to go on the trip,” Johnson said. “But the idea came about from a teammate who didn’t even get to go when I¿overheard something and I jumped right on it.”
Johnson admits going overseas initially appealed more to him than being part of a leadership experience did.
“I looked on YouTube. That’s the first thing I always do. I don’t look on Wikepedia or nothing. I like having someone show me things and they showed me all the things about Prague and I thought it would be a nice place to go to and was something you usually see in the movies because the movie Triple X was shot in Prague, so I got to see the same bridge that Van Diesel got to jump his car off of. It was something I wanted to see for myself and it was so cool that I¿got to do that,” Johnson said.
He missed most of last season with a shoulder injury after playing in seven games in 2010 after being redshirted in 2009. He had 176 combined tackles his last two years in high school and was ranked as the nation's No. 57 weakside defensive end by Rivals.com.
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said the overseas trip helped Johnson.
“Tristian came back and right away I saw some difference in him. Aaron Boyd, it obviously helped him because he has been a different guy in how prepares to play the game. I¿am not sure I should not take all the guys on that kind of trip,” Phillips said. “I think it was good for all the guys involved, but Tristian obviously came back a better leader.”
Johnson said his best experience on the trip probably was not one anyone would have expected.
“It was a scavenger hunt. It was the most fun thing I did because I got to be on a team with two of my teammates, E.J. Fields and Aaron Boyd. It was kind of cool because with us being football players, we just talked junk to the other class members like, ‘Yeah, we got this hands down,’” Johnson said.
“We had never been on a scavenger hunt before in our lives, but we just put on a good face that we were going to win. The whole class was trying to beat us. We ended up the first team back to the hotel. Everybody walked back in and saw us three just sitting at a table chatting. Everybody was disappointed and when we turned the scores in we were second. But to see the faces on everybody coming back in after all the junk we talked and see us sitting there was kind of cool.
“It was fun to do with teammates and yet make our classmates compete even when they didn’t expect to. We made the whole class compete because of us.”
Johnson admits he probably didn’t work out quite as much in Prague as he planned to do.
“We said we were going to try and run, but when it came to it we were so tired from class and walking around. We didn’t have vehicles, so we walked around all the time,” Johnson said. “We walked so much, we said that would be our conditioning. We got back and we had to work hard to catch up with everybody else and try to build our bodies back up as best we could because we did take a vacation for 2 1/2 weeks.”
Whatever he did, it got him the opportunity to play more this year and he had three solo tackles and two assists in UK’s first three games.
“My opportunity came and I have to take advantage because I worked hard for this. The thing about it is the battle is not always going to be easy,” Johnson said. “That is one thing I¿learned in college. Being a leader is not always the frontrunner. You have to be a leader even when you are not a frontrunner. I¿learned that from that trip.
“Even not being the guy making plays or the guy out there getting sacks, get guys on the same page. We are all on the same page now. Not just because of me, but because of all the leaders we have right now. There will be difficult times. It is not going to be a shutout every game. It’s going to be tough and we have to dig deep like we are now, and I¿feel like that is how my career has been.
“When I went to the bottom, I just had to dig deep and come back up and not quit. That’s what I¿expect this team to do.”