WINCHESTER — Less than two weeks before Nazeeh Johnson was selected in the seventh round of the National Football League draft by the Kansas City Chiefs in April of 2022, he was at Millbrook High School, lifting weights and sharing words of wisdom with the school’s football players.
Millbrook will clearly always have a special place in the heart of Johnson, who graduated from the Frederick County school in 2016. On Thursday, Millbrook’s faculty and its 1,459 students showed just how much love they have for him.
Millbrook held a Walk the Halls recognition for more than a dozen family and friends of Johnson in advance of the 24-year-old’s appearance in Super Bowl LVII on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Johnson was drafted as a defensive back with the Chiefs but has made his mark on special teams this year with nine tackles, including eight tackles in the last seven games. Johnson is the first player in Millbrook’s 20-year history to participate in the NFL.
Among the family members of Johnson who were present on Thursday were his parents Kisha Brown and Brian Brown of Winchester. Just before they walked the halls lined with applauding students and faculty, they expressed appreciation for Millbrook’s recognition of their son. On social media, countless people in the Winchester community have posted about their pride in Johnson and extended their congratulations to him.
“It’s a humbling and amazing feeling,” Kisha said. “The fact that [Millbrook is] doing something like this when they don’t have to, it’s a blessing. It just shows that everybody is rooting for him as a hometown hero. It’s exciting.”
Josh Haymore began working at Millbrook as a math teacher and head football coach in the 2013-14 school year, when Johnson was a sophomore. Johnson earned All-Region and All-Conference honors on both defense and offense under Haymore, running for 1,093 yards and 19 touchdowns in the Pioneers’ shotgun wing-T attack as a senior. Johnson then enrolled at Marshall University as a preferred walk-on in 2016 and earned a scholarship two years later.
The day after the Chiefs beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship game on Jan. 29, Haymore suggested to Millbrook coordinator of student activities TJ Rohrbaugh and principal Joanne Altendorf that they do something to honor Johnson. In addition to the family recognition walk, Millbrook put together a video of various faculty members sharing their thoughts about Johnson, which was sent to him on Thursday. Haymore also was going to have Millbrook’s football team send Johnson a congratulatory video.
Haymore said Thursday that Johnson’s No. 22 Millbrook jersey will no longer be worn by any member of the football team and will eventually be hung on the wall outside the school’s Casey Gymnasium.
“We’re proud of him and his family,” Haymore said. “He just worked hard [to get where he is]. He didn’t want to disappoint anybody in his life. He just kept working and kept working and kept working.”
Kisha and Brian said Johnson’s care for other people is a big part of what makes him so special.
Kisha said when Nazeeh was growing up, it wasn’t always easy for the family financially. The family’s situation has improved as Kisha’s experience and skills as a nurse have grown over the years, but affording things like football gear for Johnson as a child took a lot of work. (Johnson has three younger siblings. His brother Trammell Anthony and sister Amari Anthony graduated from Millbrook — both played basketball, and Trammell also played football — in 2018. They excelled in those sports at Shenandoah University and Sienna College, respectively, and graduated last year. Brother Jihad Brown is a junior at Millbrook.)
Kisha said Nazeeh’s concern for his family’s well-being was so great that in his first year at Marshall, he suggested leaving to go to a junior college to save his parents money on tuition.
“He said, ‘I just want to make sure you guys are good at home. I’m worried about you guys,’” Brian said. “That’s just the type of the person he is. He was more concerned about us and his siblings than himself. He has a big heart and worries himself to death about family.”
Brian assured Johnson that he would be OK, and the family would be OK. Johnson eventually earned a full scholarship from Marshall in the spring of 2018.
He graduated with his bachelor’s degree from the Huntington, West Virginia, school in 2020, then played in the fall of 2020. (Marshall used a redshirt season on Johnson in 2016.) Because of the COVID pandemic that altered the college athletic landscape dramatically, the NCAA granted players an extra year of eligibility in 2021. Kisha said Johnson considered not taking advantage of that extra year so he could contribute financially to his family, whether it was a pro football player or with another career. One of the things Johnson considered was becoming a firefighter.
Again, his parents told him to stay and keep developing. And obviously, Johnson’s decision to stay at Marshall couldn’t have worked out any better. Marshall hired a new head coach, Charles Huff, in January of 2021, a man who Johnson felt connected to immediately. Johnson spent the next 16 months improving himself as a football player and an athlete, which helped him become Millbrook’s first-ever NFL draft selection.
Kisha and Brian are grateful Johnson was drafted by Kansas City. The Chiefs selected five defensive backs in the draft, and the group that calls themselves “The Fab Five” has developed a close-knit, family-type bond. Kisha said the veterans on the team have also treated the rookies well.
“They go to someone’s house and watch games when they’re not playing, things like that,” Kisha said. “I’m hoping he’ll be there [with the Chiefs] for a long time.”
At the Super Bowl, Johnson’s wife Kinsley, brother Trammell and Johnson’s close friend PK Kier (a former Millbrook and University of Virginia running back) will be in attendance. Kier lives in Florida and was able to watch Johnson’s NFL debut in October in Tampa, Fla., in person. It will be the first time Trammell has seen Johnson play live with Kansas City.
Kisha and Brian will not be at the Super Bowl, but they were part of a group of more than 10 family members at the AFC Championship game in Kansas City, Missouri. They got to be on the field and celebrate with Nazeeh in front of the Chiefs’ fans, which is something they won’t forget.
“That’s why I was OK with not going to the Super Bowl, because I knew it would be a great atmosphere,” Kisha said.
Kisha and Brian will hold a party at 81 Bar & Grill in Winchester to watch the game at 6:30 p.m. Sunday on FOX. Kisha said anyone who wants to celebrate with Johnson’s family and friends is welcome.
If Thursday is any guide, Millbrook fans will be cheering on Johnson in full force, wherever they are. Pioneers sophomore girls’ basketball standout Jaliah Jackson is Johnson’s cousin. She was decked out in Johnson’s No. 13 Chiefs jersey on Thursday.
“[This event is] unbelievable,” said Jackson as her fellow students roared for her relatives. “It’s amazing. It’s crazy. He’s worth it. He’s worked for it.”
Nice to hear about a hometown guy doing well and maintaining an even keel. Good luck Sunday! GO CHIEFS!!!
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