Newnan native spurs new college team
by Clay Neely
Since childhood, Kenny Johnson had been groomed to play baseball.
A veritable all-star player, he had his eyes set on becoming one of Newnan High School’s best pitching prospects.
However, it was not to be. During his freshman year, Johnson blew out his shoulder and it ultimately had to be rebuilt – his future in baseball was decidedly ended.
In the face of this twist of fate, Johnson was remarkably unfazed.
“Sure, it was disappointing,” Johnson said. “I know a lot of people who put all their efforts into sports and then something goes wrong – they didn’t put any of that effort into their education or any other avenue that could make them successful and so they’re facing a serious crisis in their lives.”
As an admitted born competitor, a life devoid of the thrill just wouldn’t feel complete for Johnson. So after taking some time off to fall back and regroup, Johnson came up with a new game plan. As a lifelong fishing enthusiast, competing seemed like a natural progression.
“I’d always enjoyed fishing,” he said. “Making the jump to the competitive realm was an easy decision.”
After entering tournaments throughout his high school years, Johnson arrived at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton ready to compete on the collegiate level as well. However there was just one problem – the university didn’t have a fishing team.
“I had heard about college fishing teams at the University of Georgia, Clemson, Auburn and I had always wanted to be a college athlete,” Johnson said. “So I said, well, let’s make it happen.”
It was initially a tough road for Johnson. The university had him fill out stacks of paperwork and conduct a series of interviews and meetings. Finally, in December 2012, the University of West Georgia Bass Club was founded with only Johnson and his friend Brandon Larry.
“We had to consider it a club,” Johnson said. “If we did it as a team, we’d have so many rules and regulations, but it makes it harder since you’re competing against teams like Auburn that have money coming in from the school. We have to pay out of pocket.”
However, the club’s financial situation hasn’t been an issue.
“We’ve beaten the big schools plenty of times and when it comes out of your own pocket, it makes it that much sweeter,” Johnson said. “That’s what my parents taught me – if you have to work for something, you appreciate it more.”
Only a month after the club was formed, it was already competing in its first tournament in January 2013. Even as the two youngest competitors, they finished in the top 10 and qualified for a national championship.
Shortly thereafter, Hank Weldon, college BASS tournament director, called the club to invite them to a Top 20 Tournament for Georgia. The Georgia State Championship was held on Lake Harding, and it’s a memory Johnson will never forget.
“It rained all day during the tournament, and we thought we were in bad shape since we only had four fish. We were panicking,” Johnson said.
As the team waited on the pro stage for its final weigh-in, the director approached the team and informed them that they would be weighing in last.
“Halfway through, we starting thinking, ‘What if we won this?’ When we came in to weigh in, UGA was in the lead,” Johnson said. “We had 14 pounds with four fish and we won by two pounds. We couldn’t believe it. My whole family was there to see it. That was just the best.”
After the tournament, the UWG group went from two people to 36 in only a year-and-a-half. The club picked up Gable Sporting Goods and Highland Marina as sponsors.
When the club set up a benefit tournament to send money to the American Red Cross for the victims of the tornados in Oklahoma, Highland Marina donated its facility for free and since then has helped the club as much as needed.
“Anything we need, they have been there for us,” Johnson said.
When it was time to display the sponsors on the boat, Johnson reached out to local graphic designer and personal friend, Jeremy Henson, at Henson Graphics to provide the wrap.
“As soon as I called him and told him what I wanted, it was done in a day and a half,” Johnson said. “Soon, Yamaha was on as a sponsor and we haven’t looked back.
However, as a college student, Johnson still has obligations as a student and also as an entrepreneur. During the week, he works as a landscaper and feels that it’s a job that allows him to juggle his life to its fullest potential.
“It allows me to make my own hours,” Johnson said. “Between school, fishing, and meetings, I don’t have much time. I work two to three days a week and get it all done and have the rest of the time to do things with the team.”
Hard work is not just philosophy for Johnson – it’s a way of life that was ingrained by his family.
“My parents had me young so they had to work their butts off to get where they are now,” Johnson said. “Ever since I was little, they told me that if you work hard for what you want and you’ll get it – anything worth doing is worth doing right.”
While Johnson plans to continue his pursuit of fishing professionally on the pro circuit, he knows that the future always has a surprise or two up its sleeve. As a marketing major at the University of West Georgia, he feels the degree will give him avenues he can continue to pursue.
Right now, Johnson defaults to the advice that his parents bestowed upon him.
“Don’t get too cocky,” he said. “Be humble because it can always be taken away.”