Effingham County High School honor graduate Abi Johnson visited several colleges, but ultimately one offered something none of the others could.
“Georgia Southern runs in my veins,” she explained.
Her parents Eddie and Stephanie Johnson both attended Georgia Southern, and her father was in the first graduating class after the school earned university status.
Through Johnson’s childhood, her family attended GSU football games at Paulson Stadium. They sat on one of the grassy areas beyond the bleachers.
“I grew up sitting on the hill, riding the cardboard box down the hill, crashing into that brick wall like everybody does,” Johnson said. “So I grew up with Georgia Southern.”
Johnson will now be on the field at Paulson, after signing a letter of intent Thursday with Georgia Southern’s cheer program. Johnson will cheer in competitions and at GSU games as a member of the Eagles’ coed cheerleading squad.
After helping the ECHS competition cheerleading squad win the Region 3-AAAAA championship and take third place in the Class AAAAA state competition in her senior year, Johnson looks forward to cheering for larger crowds in college.
“I can’t wait for this new experience because I just feel like it’s going to be that much more exciting,” she said. “I love the feeling of having everybody out there cheering with me, or cheering me on. That’s something that I look forward to a lot.”
Johnson will attend Georgia Southern on a full academic scholarship. She received a 1906 Scholarship, a full-tuition scholarship from the University Honors Program awarded to a few select freshmen each year.
“We were very, very proud, because she worked hard for it,” her mother said. “We would’ve been just excited that she got into the honors program itself. That was her goal. We were not expecting the other to fall into place, and it did.”
Johnson said she initially didn’t consider attending GSU, because it is so close to home. However, a visit to the campus changed her mind.
“I toured about 10 different schools and Georgia Southern just felt like home,” she said. “I remembered why I loved Georgia Southern when I was a kid, and it just helped me finalize that decision of where I wanted to go.”
Johnson, who served as her senior class vice president and graduated with honors from ECHS last Friday, plans to major in exercise science. She is considering a career in sports psychology or physical therapy.
“Sports have been a big part of my life for a long time. That’s something I want to continue,” she said. “I want to be able to assist athletes in some way.”
Johnson went through Georgia Southern cheerleading tryouts on the weekend prior to her high school graduation. The rigorous two-day tryout involved stunting, tumbling, cheering and tests of physical fitness and memorization.
Johnson found out Wednesday that she made GSU’s coed squad, giving her the opportunity to cheer every year in college — as she had for all four years at ECHS.
She got the news on a sunny afternoon. She said the bright, beautiful weather made her think about her father, who died as the result of a car accident during her junior year of high school.
“I feel like that was Dad smiling down and just being like, ‘I’m proud of you,’” Johnson said. “He was the one standing in the corner waiting on us to finish practice or the one in the stands hootin’ and hollerin’ louder than everybody else.”
Johnson was in the midst of competition cheerleading season when her father died in December 2012. However, she continued on through the season.
“She rose to the occasion and has never let that hold her back,” Stephanie Johnson said. “That’s why it’s a really big deal that she continued with her academic and athletic success.”
As she did with her ECHS and Cheer Savannah all-star squads, Johnson will stay busy with cheerleading year-round. She said she equally enjoys cheering in competitions and at games.
“I love it all,” she said. “I’m a year-round cheerleader and I’m a whole-hearted cheerleader.”