Football lessons bring Johnson, daughter closer together

"I have always looked up to him since I was a little girl," Kaitlyn Johnson said of her father, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson.

Credit: Handout from Kaitlyn Johnson

Credit: Handout from Kaitlyn Johnson

"I have always looked up to him since I was a little girl," Kaitlyn Johnson said of her father, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson.

Kaitlyn Johnson had exciting news for her father. In her first vocal competition, as a high school junior, she had finished third in the state.

“I was excited to call Dad and he said, ‘Well, that’s great and I’m proud, but remember, If you ain’t first, you’re last,’” Johnson wrote in an e-mail this week.

The unslakable thirst for competition and winning that defines Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson – his daughter knows it as deeply as any of Johnson’s assistant coaches and players.

“For better or worse, I’ve inherited my father’s competitive streak,” she wrote.

Kaitlyn Johnson, 23 and an aspiring opera singer, will spend Father’s Day almost 5,000 miles away from her father, as she is in Prague this summer to perform in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the historic Estates Theatre. Only geographical distance separates the two, however. The only child of Paul and Susan Johnson, Kaitlyn painted a picture of a father that might surprise some who know him only from the sidelines of Bobby Dodd Stadium.

“Those who actually know him balk at the misnomer that he is a difficult personality, as he is a very generous, caring and usually fun person to be around,” she wrote.

Johnson’s favorite childhood memories include traveling with her father’s teams, including one with Navy to play Rice, where she ultimately attended and graduated from in 2015. She recalled trips to her father’s office during the preseason, when she and her mother brought him dinner and sat with him as he reviewed practice video, sometimes with Kaitlyn’s assistance.

“I learned more about the game of football by the time I was 10 years old than most people will ever truly know in their lifetime,” she wrote.

Forging a path quite divergent from her father’s, Johnson is at the outset of a promising career. She has performed previously in England and Italy and is pursuing her master’s in vocal performance at Indiana, one of the most prestigious music schools in the country. The competitiveness and drive that her father passed down have served her well. She said the similarities between her vocation and her father’s are astonishing.

“Each one is a discipline which requires total determination, dedication and passion on top of God-given talent,” she wrote.

Her nascent career has given her a new perspective of the success that her father has achieved – winning two national titles at Georgia Southern, five Commander-in-Chief’s Trophies at Navy and three appearances in the ACC title game at Tech.

“I have always looked up to him since I was a little girl, and as I have become an adult myself, my respect for him has immensely grown,” she wrote. “He has achieved success at the highest level for his field and his success is something I strive to match in my own professional life.”

When she is in town, father and daughter spend time together in typical ways, taking walks in the neighborhood, going to see movies or staying at home and watching television. She likes updating him on the results of her fantasy-football team. Johnson reported that she has won her league two of the past five years and offered – perhaps unnecessarily – that “a high level of competition clearly runs in our blood.”

As she once learned her dad’s trade, so has the father now become educated in the world of classical music and opera, fresh territory for a man reared in the mountains of North Carolina.

Paul Johnson, who finds exceeding joy in settling scores, might find Kaitlyn’s performance this summer quite to his tastes. Don Giovanni is the story of a father who comes back from the dead to defend his daughter’s honor against the reprehensible title character. Kaitlyn, who will perform the role of Donna Anna, the daughter, could find some resonance, too.

The vocal competition that she finished third in as a junior?

She won it the next year.