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Virus hits home for Ole Miss football player Eli Johnson

By Nathanel Gabler
The Oxford Eagle

OXFORD — Ole Miss offensive lineman Eli Johnson was supposed to go to Asia for spring break.

The coronavirus pandemic put a halt to those plans, and has impacted Johnson in a much bigger and more personal way in recent days.

Johnson’s father and mother have both been diagnosed with COVID-19. Still living under the same roof as his mother, who’s exhibiting mild symptoms, Johnson said he is living life under the assumption that he, too, has been infected with the virus.

“With me having been around them so much, the general thought is that I probably have it at this point,” Johnson said. “But since I haven’t shown any symptoms, the team doctors don’t think it’s worth me getting tested, because I could give it to someone else.”

David Johnson, Eli’s dad, was hospitalized on March 20 while showing symptoms of the virus. The 48-year-old sports writer for 247Sports was running a high fever and the family simply thought they might as well go get it checked out.

After testing negative for both the normal flu and strep throat, David was later tested for coronavirus. The results came back positive on Sunday, and David has yet to leave Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford. According to his son, he’s not getting any worse but is still a long way away from being fully healed.

“We don’t really have any idea how he got it, but his case hit really quick. He started showing symptoms on that Friday, and it was really strong,” Eli said. “He was running a strong fever and had all these other bad symptoms, so eventually they tested him for the coronavirus.”

Eli’s mother, Ashley, started running a fever on Monday. By Tuesday, doctors had confirmed her as a positive case as well.

Ashley’s case and symptoms are much milder, and she is remaining isolated at home as opposed to staying in the hospital. She is still living under the same roof as Eli and his 5-year-old sister while having the virus.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover. But the virus is highly contagious and has caused a global pandemic.

Eight of Mississippi’s 377 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Lafayette County. Three people have died in the state from the virus, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health.

A three-star center recruit coming out of Lafayette High School in 2016, Johnson went right across the road to Ole Miss to fulfill his childhood dream of being a Rebel.
It took Johnson three years, until his redshirt junior season, to see much action along the offensive line at Ole Miss, but he started all 12 games at center in 2019.

Despite the team missing spring and being unable so far to practice with Lane Kiffin and the new Ole Miss coaching staff, it’s presumed that Johnson will slot in yet again along the inside of the offensive line for his redshirt senior season.

Right now, he’s hardly thinking about football season — whenever in the distant future it may be — and, he said, he’s thinking about how football might have accidentally brought him even closer to coronavirus.

Johnson had been following this outbreak much closer than others. He was supposed to be in Japan over spring break. Along with a few others from Ole Miss, he was going to teach in a football clinic. Clearly, as coronavirus swept Asia, that did not happen.

“Obviously, this coronavirus was a much bigger problem in Asia than it was here for a long while before it was a problem here,” he said. “So, I had been monitoring the whole thing from the start, simply because it was going to affect my spring break trip to Japan. … It’s crazy. I remember following this thing as it was spreading through Asia, and then a few weeks later, it’s affecting (my) family.”

Right now, Eli is hanging in there. His mother is already doing pretty well, but until she’s fully recovered, Eli is essentially the man of the house for his 5-year-old sister.

David is still pretty heavily medicated, Eli said. The family can’t go visit their father, but they do call to check in a few times a day. Until he is cleared of the virus, it’s about all they can do.

“He’s hanging in there right now. It’s been a tough couple days, but he’s going to get through this. I’m optimistic he’s going to pull through this,” Eli said.