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UWRF student becomes viral sensation for one-handed catch

October 12, 2016

Elijah Johnson, a senior at UWRF, is working a job most people can only dream of as a Vikings ball boy. After this past week, it will be much more difficult for him to go about it quietly.

Johnson made a one-handed catch when the Vikings played the New York Giants on Monday Night Football. The internet started blowing up only seconds after the catch. Johnson’s ability to make the catch look so easy was one of the reasons it was everywhere one looked last Tuesday morning. The fact that the Vikings played Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., famous for his own one-handed catches, didn’t hurt the publicity either.

While Johnson may have received his 15 minutes of fame for his work as a ball boy, his real work with the Vikings goes far beyond his work on Sundays.

Johnson started working as a ball boy after moving in with what he describes as his “second family,” the Spielmans. Having lived with the family since 2013, Johnson has had a close connection with Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and has worked as a ball boy for close to three years.

While being an NFL ball boy is an incredibly exciting job, it’s not as glorious as it may seem. The amount of work Johnson puts in around the facility and in his role as an equipment manager intern puts into perspective the dedication it takes to hold the position.

“During the fall season I’m working Sunday home games. But during the spring when I’m in school and during the summer, I’m working five to six days out of the week and close to 50-60 hours a week,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he especially cherishes the relationships he’s built and the learning experiences he’s received while on the job. He also said he enjoys being part of the behind-the-scenes factor because “A lot of people don’t know what’s really going on in the facility.” Johnson also described one of the most exciting aspects as his ability to be hands on with an NFL team and see how professional they have to be to work within the NFL.

Johnson said that his close connections to coaches and players are especially important to him.

“A coach that I’m really connected with is George Stewart. He’s a wide receivers coach and I’ve been working with him for two years now,” Johnson said.

The list of players on the Vikings he feels connected to is especially star-studded. Names like Adrian Peterson, Teddy Bridgewater, Jerick McKinnon and Cordarrelle Patterson were some of the first names Johnson brought up. But he said that the stars of the team treat him just like anyone else would.

“There’s not just one player I can’t talk to and [the players] will engage in conversation. It was a little intimidating at first, but you really learn they’re normal people at the end of the day. They’re just getting paid millions of dollars to go out there on the gridiron and perform at a higher level,” Johnson said.

Head Coach Mike Zimmer has also taught Johnson important lessons on how to act. Johnson described Zimmer as someone who “doesn’t go for immaturity” and it has made him “learn how to talk to people and be respectful.”

However, a chronicle of Johnson’s time with the Vikings wouldn’t be complete without the latest chapter involving his catch. A video of the catch now has over 125,000 views on YouTube alone and was huge on social media following the Vikings Monday night showdown.

“With social media, anything can become a big deal,” Johnson said.

It all started with Sam Bradford being forced out of the pocket on a third down with the Vikings leading 14-3 in the third quarter, but what happened after Bradford threw the ball away is what had people talking for days.

“I really wasn’t thinking. I just saw Sam Bradford rolling out right. I actually had a football in my right hand and I had a ball in my pouch, so I saw the ball thrown and just figured that I could catch it. So I put my ball in my left hand and I stuck my right hand out and some way, somehow just connected,” Johnson said.

The reaction to the catch is what really surprised Johnson. He said he thought someone might have recorded the catch but that he didn’t think it would be a big deal. Public relations people started coming up to him and showing him videos of the catch right after the game and some of his co-workers were tagging him in tweets to let him know he was going viral. Even some of the players like star receiver Stefon Diggs and Jerick McKinnon, who calls Johnson his “little brother,” were bringing it up to him.

While Johnson was still hearing about it quite a few days after the game, the buzz from the catch is finally starting to stabilize and Johnson can return to normal. If you ask him, he’s just fine with that.

“It’s starting to die down, which I’m kind of thankful for because I’m not an attention seeker or anything. I just didn’t think much of [the catch],” Johnson said.

The Vikings are experiencing an exciting start to their own season by being the only remaining undefeated team at 5-0. With the attention back on the product on the field, Johnson can return to making his difference behind the scenes, and that’s the way he likes it.