BY MATT McCALL
Homicide Watch Chicago
Mikal Johnson was excited to learn that he made the cut for a local semi-pro football team.
Two days later, the former star running back at Rolling Meadows High School was shot to death in the Logan Square neighborhood, authorities said.
Relatives said Mikal Johnson was also a member of the Rolling Meadows wrestling team, where he finished third in the state tournament in 2008.
But the devoted Bears’ fan’s true passion was football, family said.
Mikal Johnson’s younger brother, 17-year-old Yahya Johnson, followed in his brother’s footsteps and plays running back at Rich South High School. He even wears his brother’s number 34, family said.
“He’s one of my biggest inspirations,” Yahya Johnson said. “When I tell people who I’m trying to top, it’s my brother and Walter Payton.”
After high school, Mikal Johnson studied music at Columbia College, where he met Gerrik Birt in 2008. He eventually wanted to become a history teacher, his family said.
Johnson never became a teacher, but Birt said he felt Johnson was always teaching.
“[He wanted to] make sure that the next generation was better off than we were,” Birt said.
Birt recalled a moment on the porch of a bar, beers in hand, where the two talked about recent hard times. Johnson told Birt how valuable their friendship was.
“I said, ‘I don’t have anything worth admiring right now,’” Birt said. “He said, ‘Naw man, you’ve got talent and spirit in your voice.’
“He kept telling me how much he admired me, and I appreciate it so much. I’ll never forget that day. He’s a special person, he never had anything but love for other people.”
While Mikal Johnson was known as “The Beast” on the field, his father, Luther Johnson, said he was a “big teddy bear” off the gridiron.
Mikal Johnson earned the nickname “gentle giant” for his reputation as a humble and kind person who was always breaking up fights and stopping bullies, family said.
On the night of the attack, police said a vehicle pulled up and somebody shot him in the chest. The shooter then climbed back into his vehicle, which fled north through an alley.
His mother, Aisha Bilal, said her son was in a vehicle with a friend when two men in another vehicle pulled up, got out and yelled that they had been cut off. Johnson and his friend left their car and was shot five times with 9mm handgun, she said.
Johnson, of the 1200 Block of West Belden Avenue, later died at Mt. Sinai Hospital.
“If there was something that could have been resolved, he would have avoided trouble at all costs,” according to Luther Johnson, who said his son was not in a gang.
Nobody has been charged for the murder. Area North detectives are investigating.