For the Newton Eagles high school football team, high-level success is the standard. Over the last three seasons, this program went 43-1, including back-to-back Class 3A Division II Texas State Championships in 2017 and 2018. Led by head coach W.T. Johnston, Newton High School ascended to the top of the Texas football food chain once again, but their leader almost didn't get to see it.
Following a double-lung transplant in 2015, Johnston contracted Graft-Versus-Host Disease. The very rare, potentially fatal disease appears in fewer than 20,000 cases per year in the United States. Doctors told Newton's head football coach he'd only have about eight months to live back in August. On December 20, 2018, W.T. Johnston watched his team cap an undefeated season with another state title.
After Newton's 21-16 win over the Canadian Wildcats in front of 10,032 people at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Johnston reflected on this year and the final lesson he'd hoped to teach his players in this powerful postgame message.
"We got together in August right before we started practicing, and I told [the Newton football team] I probably wouldn't make it through the season. I was only given eight months to live, and I wanted them to be aware of what was going on. And then, we got a little going. There was about two or three weeks during the season I didn't think I was going to make it, and we talked about that. I always told them this was the last lesson I was going to teach them.
"I've been around these guys, and their dads, and their mothers since 1991. And I told them this was the last lesson I would ever teach them. That's how to live before you die, where you put your strength, and where you put your belief. The Lord has done so much for me. It's unbelievable what Jesus has let me do and see through these kids. And I tell everybody -- they don't understand this -- I've been given a great gift, and people just don't understand that."
-- Newton Head Coach W.T. Johnston, via FoxSportsSW
Led by the AP Class 3A Offensive Player of the Year Darwin Barlow, a TCU Horned Frogs commit, Newton jumped out to a 21-0 first half lead before Canadian roared back to close the gap, but ultimately fell short. This win was Newton High School's fifth Texas high school football state championship in seven trips to the title game.
For coach W.T. Johnston, this one season meant more than all his others combined, and what this man means to that Texas community is going to live on forever for what he accomplished on it, but even more so for the powerful message he taught his players and their families off it.
UPDATE: On Saturday, May 11, 2019, Newton head coach W.T. Johnston died after his battle with the incredibly rare lung disease.
This article was originally published on December 21, 2018.
Enjoy all things sports?
Don't miss a story! Sign up for daily stories delivered to your inbox.