Athletes, students hold vigil to honor Alabama A&M player who died in wreck

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - Alabama A&M University held a vigil Monday evening for Danny Johnson, a football player who died in a wreck last week in Jackson County.

The crowd came to Louis Crews Stadium, at the fieldhouse endzone, to lift up Danny and his family.

Johnson died in a wreck Thursday, March 24. He was a passenger in a 2011 Kia that collided head-on with a 1999 Dodge truck.  The crash happened on Alabama 40 about 10 miles east of Scottsboro. The driver of the Kia and the driver of the pickup truck were both taken to nearby hospitals for treatment.

Family members say Danny died trying to protect those in the car with him. His girlfriend was also in the wreck and she survived, saying at the vigil, "I just don't want anybody to forget that he wasn't just a football player. He wanted to be a doctor. He likes music."

She said he loved football, and everybody on the team. "I know he meant a lot to y'all too," she told those gathered to pay him respect. "And I just wanted to say thank you for sharing him with me."

Johnson was a sophomore at the university and served as a two-year starter on the Bulldogs' defense. In the 2015 season, Johnson finished second on the team with 30 solo tackles and he broke up four passes.

"A football team is no different than a family," said A&M Coach James Spady in an interview with WHNT News 19, "but we're weaker by one."

"This is uncharted territory for me, my 24th season coaching football and I've never lost a current player," said Spady. "But we're going to kind of go through it together as a football team. We had a chance to meet and we visited about it, we talked with grief counselors. We prop each other up."

Team members and athletes from the A&M community organized the vigil. It was important to them to express their love of Danny, but also publicly show support to his family.

One person, Da'Vonta Ealy, made a tribute video using video he shot during practices and games. It was shown at the vigil, and brought players to tears. After a final song, the football team released balloons into the air.

Johnson's father said while he will never heal from the loss of his son, he takes great joy in knowing Danny is in a better place now.

"Football was easy for him. Making friends was easy for him... because, you know something?" he asked. "I taught him about a man named Jesus."

Johnson was also a graduate of J.O. Johnson High School, signing with the Bulldogs in 2014. His twin brother, DeVon, plays wide receiver for the Bulldogs. Both also ran track for AAMU.

"Every time you look at DeVon, you see Danny," said Spady. "Every time you look at Danny, you see DeVon. That's going to be tough."

Many took to social media Thursday, the day he died, to share their condolences. This includes Johnson's cousin, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews.

In his freshman year, Johnson received an honorable mention as Defensive Back Performer of the Week by College Football Performance Awards.

He blocked a point-after try which proved to be the margin of victory in Alabama A&M's 37-36 win over Alabama State in the Magic City Classic. Johnson also had an endzone interception and 5 tackles for the Bulldogs in the game.

Johnson's funeral service will be Tuesday, March 29 at 11:30 a.m. at Fellowship of Faith Church with Bishop Dexter Elston officiating and Elder Jesse Draper. Interment will be in Meadowlawn Garden of Peace.   Public viewing will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Tuesday at Royal Funeral Home.

Danny's father encourages those attending the funeral services not to bring cameras or use their phones. He said he doesn't want this on social media. He would not like his son to be remembered that way online, or as a "spectacle."

"If you're going to bring a camera, you might as well not come," he said.

Danny's father wants to start a foundation in his memory. There's already a Go Fund Me page for him. His father would like to raise money for a bus to help students reach their educational goals.