For five seasons, wide receiver Andre Johnson has been arguably the Texans' best player. Now that he's been in Houston long enough to call it his second home, the two-time Pro Bowler is becoming an integral part of the community, as well.
Actively involved in the community of his hometown of Miami, Johnson recently stopped by Bastian Elementary School in Houston for a pep rally. The visit, which came only hours after Johnson had spent more than $12,000 on local children at a holiday shopping spree, was the first of many to come at the K-5 school.
Johnson will make multiple trips to Bastian each year as part of an academic recognition program, just as he did for three years in Miami at his former elementary school, North County Elementary. Through the program, Johnson rewards students for outstanding attendance, academic achievement and citizenship.
Johnson spoke at length to the Bastian students about striving hard to succeed in school. He shared some of his own childhood academic struggles, mainly his dislike for English classes, and even said that if he had to choose a career path all over again, he would probably choose to be a teacher instead of a football player because of the value of education.
"(I'm) just basically just trying to get the kids to improve in what they're doing ... just putting a little pressure on them to make them put pressure on themselves and see that there are a lot of things out there other than sports, whether it's being a doctor or a lawyer or whatever," he said.
After Johnson spoke, Texans community relations manager Stephanie Belton asked the students questions about what he had just said. Attentive students who answered correctly were rewarded with autographed Texans memorabilia, including jerseys, mini-helmets and pennants.
Johnson then recognized those who had merited outstanding academic achievement, attendance and citizenship, giving each a ticket to the Texans' Dec. 30 home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Bastian principal Bruce Goffney, who sent Johnson off with heartfelt thanks at the end of the pep rally, was grateful for the impact he envisions Johnson having on his school.
"He brings a very strong message to our campus … and to hear it from a personality like him really brings it home to our youngsters," Goffney said. "They get a sense to begin to believe that it can happen to them, (hearing it from) someone who has come from similar roots.
"We're just so glad that Mr. Johnson and the Houston Texans have adopted Bastian, and we look forward to the days to come to see the kind of impact it will have on our youngsters in helping them to come to school every day, to make the good grades and just be a part of the school culture for success."
Johnson said he looks forward to returning to Bastian in the near future, having already promised the students more prizes for academic success and a year-end pizza party for the grade that has the best attendance in the spring semester.
"Once the school year is over, you come and just reward the kids who do what you talked about as far as in the classroom," he said. "You may not think it goes a long way, but it does, because it motivates them to go home and want to do work in school because some kids in the back of their mind may say, 'Hey, Andre Johnson's going to give me that gift certificate to Toys 'R Us' or something. It just puts a little bit of pressure on them."
If that pressure is anywhere near as strong as the resounding ovation Johnson received at the end of his visit, the star receiver's partnership with Bastian Elementary will be fruitful for years to come.