Maryland standout running back Ty Johnson lives a very disciplined and regimented lifestyle. He's routinely up by 5 a.m. for workouts, takes a full course load, is a regular around the academic achievement center and often can be found putting in extra work on the field or in the film room.
To Ty though, his day-to-day routine pales in comparison to what his mother, Tracy, went through while raising him as a single mother, who often worked multiple jobs and unpredictable shifts.
“She did whatever it took to support our family” said Ty. “She put in crazy hours at work, but always provided for us. There were numerous days where we could tell she was dead tired, but she kept moving forward without ever complaining. I keep that mentality in the back of my mind every time I'm facing any type of adversity, whether it be in the classroom or on the field.”
Ty's older brother, Leroy, went into the military and his older sister, Lakeisha, attended Virginia Tech, so the bond between Ty and Tracy developed even stronger because at times all they had was each other.
“Basically it was just me and Ty almost the entire time he was growing up so we were very close,” explained Tracy. “When Saturday night rolled around, he'd be more likely to hang at home with me and just talk and watch TV than go out with his friends.”
Although Tracy's other children weren't always around and Ty had a great deal of independence at an early age, he believes that she was tougher on him.
“I was the baby boy and at times I used that to my advantage,” said Ty with a smile. “But I think she learned a lot from raising my brother and sister and used that to form a way to make sure I was successful. She always wanted to keep me on the straight and narrow so I feel that she was fairly strict with me, but that made me into the man I am today.”
Tracy had help from other family members when she would have to work prolonged hours or be away for a day or two, but at an early age Ty earned her trust. Even when others questioned her for leaving him alone, she never doubted him.
“I knew where he was, I knew what he was doing and I trusted him,” explained Tracy. “I never worried that he'd go out drinking or anything like that. He knows bad situations and he walks away from them. He's a smart kid.”
As a child, Ty had no issues getting his own breakfast ready without any help from mom. Tracy jokes it was usually just little things like cereal and toast, but that changed quickly as he developed a passion for cooking. As Ty got older, Tracy transitioned into working night shift and Ty then started helping out with laundry, cleaning the house and other responsibilities because he knew how tired his mom was.
Ty expanded his cooking prowess as he got older as well, frequently watching cooking shows and attempting to emulate the chefs on TV.
“He used to drive me nuts when I was cooking because he would come into the kitchen and give me pointers based off the ingredients the chefs on the cooking shows were using,” said Tracy with a chuckle. “I just looked at him and told him to get out. Then he'd tell me he'd just add the ingredients when I wasn't looking and off he'd go.”
Ty's specialty in the kitchen is stuffed peppers, and although it seemed tough for her to admit at first, she finally conceded that Ty's stuffed peppers are better than hers. After raving about them to her co-workers recently, Tracy promised them that the next time Ty is home, he's going to make them for the entire office.
Tracy supported Ty's passing for cooking, but it wasn't always the same when it came to playing football. Ty's physical education teacher in elementary school suggested he start playing football, but Tracy was leery about letting her then seven-year-old son play a sport that involved tackling and hitting.
“He was the baby of the family and I didn't want him to get hurt, so I didn't really push sports on him,” explained Tracy. “Other people had to literally shove me into letting him play football. And now I'm so glad that there were people out there that saw something in him and pushed me into getting him to play.”
The turning point in Ty's football life came when he was a sophomore at Fort Hill High School and was bumped up to varsity. After the first practice Ty quickly realized that he could not only hang with the older players, but excel against them.
“Ty came home and told me that everything just clicked and right then in that moment, he knew that he could have everything that he ever dreamed of through football,” said Tracy. “He told me that he wanted a better life for us and that he was going to take care of me and our family.
“Ty's always been very goal oriented,” Tracy continued. “There's no swaying him, if he sets his mind to something, he'll do it. The more people that come to him and make fun of his goals, the more it pushes him to prove that he can do it.”
Ty has certainly proved his doubters wrong through two seasons at Maryland. The 5-10, 205 pound running back rushed for over 1,000 yards last season on just 110 attempts, the fewest rushing attempts ever for a Terp to reach that milestone. He also set the single-season Maryland record by gaining 9.13 yards per carry in 2016, breaking a record that was established in 1951.
Tracy has been there to witness nearly all of it, attending every home game and she joked that if it wasn't for the visiting teams putting the parents up so high and having to climb all of the steps with a bad knee, she'd probably never miss a road game either.
While talking about what it's like watching Ty's game-breaking performances on the field, Tracy was on the brink of tears trying to explain just how proud she is of her youngest son.
“It's hard to even put it into words,” said an emotional Tracy. “I look at him and just think 'what did I do to deserve this amazing kid?' I know it's not easy being a student-athlete. I can only imagine what his body and mind goes through every day. I look up to him. I'm his mom, but he's my hero.”
On Mother's Day, it's no surprise that Ty traditionally likes to cook for Tracy. This Mother's Day will be no different as he'll make the 135 mile drive from College Park to Cumberland to surprise the woman he admires the most.
As for the best Mother's Day gift Tracy has ever received, it came recently after the NFL Draft when she received a text from Ty saying that he can't wait for the day that he can be there and know that he can take care of her forever. She messaged him back and told Ty that his happiness and his dreams coming true are the only things she ever needs.
“After I sent him that text, he immediately responded,” explained Tracy. “He said ‘No, mom. I know what you've been through, I've been there with you through it all. I promise that I'll never let you down'. That to me is the best thing any child can give you. There's no money or anything, just to know that they love you so much that they want to be there for you, that's the greatest Mother's Day gift that anyone could ever ask for.”