Quarterback Matt Johnson is spending his summer working out and watching film as he prepares for the Charlotte 49ers’ first football season, which begins Aug. 31 against Campbell.
But Johnson and teammate Zach Bumgarner also made time in June for something equally as valuable to them: they spent six days doing missionary work in the Mexican border town of Tecate.
As part of a 38-person team from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes International, Johnson and Bumgarner helped build a house for a four-person family. They also worked as counselors at a sports camp for kids from a local orphanage.
“You see what the children are going through on a day-to-day basis, and you just feel blessed to be able to be there for them,” Johnson said.
Johnson said building the house in three days was a challenge, but the FCA group met it with hard work and enthusiasm.
“It was really cool to give the family the keys at the end of it,” Johnson said. “To see how much it meant to all of them was something I’m never going to forget.”
After spending the night in the orphanage, mornings were spent at camp, where the 49ers players taught the Mexican kids as much as they could about American football, even taking them through warm-up drills favored by Charlotte strength coach Jim Durning.
“You know, by the time we were done, they wanted to play football more than soccer with us,” Johnson said. “That was a win for us.”
Johnson and Bumgarner will be redshirt freshman this season. They spent last year on campus practicing for games that wouldn’t be played for another year. They were high school rivals in Catawba County – Johnson playing at Maiden; Bumgarner, an offensive lineman, at St. Stephens in Hickory.
Johnson will enter preseason practice, which begins Aug. 1, as the favorite to win the 49ers’ starting job at quarterback. He was impressive in Charlotte’s spring game in April, completing 13 of 14 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m studying my own game as much as possible this summer,” said Johnson. “I’m looking at my tendencies to see what I can get better at. With throwing, it’s all about repetitions. You have to throw 1,000 times to get five times better. So I’m throwing 100,000 times. That’s my nature. I want to see where I am.”
Johnson has logged more time on Charlotte’s campus than at home this summer. When he has been home, he has spent time with his family and doing as much fishing as he can.
“I’m a schedule-kind of person,” Johnson said. “So it’s good for me to be at school and around my teammates. “I can be in football mode every day and be able to really grind and get to work.”
But the mission trip was a break from all that, said Johnson, who also went on a similar mission to Haiti when he was in high school. He said spending time in Tecate – which is on the California border, about an hour drive east from San Diego – was a transformational experience.
“I’ll never forget it,” he said. “It’s a very peaceful town, with the nicest people you’ve ever met. They all want to talk to you and want to know about you. They love that you’re trying to speak Spanish, which was funny.
“My Spanish is pretty awful, though. ‘Adios’ was as close as I could get. But I’m going to learn Spanish in college.”
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less