Breaking News
More () »

Mahtomedi football players embrace their differences and turn them into strengths on and off the field

For this high school football team, success is measured by character and not just points on the scoreboard.

MAHTOMEDI, Minnesota — "Mahtomedi breeds very good athletes," explained J.P. Johnson matter-of-factly.

Johnson, a senior captain for the Zephyrs football team is the latest nominee for Communities that KARE.

Johnson is used to the spotlight as a star Zephyr's offensive guard and defensive tackle, but his light shines even brighter as a role model.

"Yeah, I love J.P. like a brother. But, no, it's crazy that me and him are just playing football together," exclaimed Jameson Melzer, another Mahtomedi lineman who lines up at tackle. 

Melzer picked up the pads for the first time this season, and while they've only been teammates for a few short months, Melzer and Johnson have had each other's backs for years.

"I met him, I believe, 1st-grade lunch. He came up to me and started talking. He's one of the most outgoing people I've ever met. He's really, really funny, really nice to talk to," explained Johnson.

As a person with autism, Melzer has had trouble making human connections in the past. "His whole life, he hasn't had a lot of friends, and not that you need a lot, you just need good friends," explained Angela Chalupsky, Jameson's mother.

Since joining the team, Chalupsky insists she's never seen Melzer happier. "Honestly, he was he's walking around with more confidence."

That confidence and happiness are mainly from the friendships formed on the team, especially with Johnson. "He tells us a lot of things, and he tells us never give up, never give up," said Melzer. "You just have to have a lot of willpower, and just that's all you got to have."

This inclusiveness is what makes Mahtomedi's football program stand out, according to head coach Dave Muetzel. "As far as disabilities, as far as gender, as far as everything there. Everybody's welcome. If you're willing to work hard and want to be part of a team, we invite you to play football."

For Johnson, this is a philosophy helping him plan his next step. "I'm looking for that team that's going to have the same morals as I do. As, treat one as you want to be treated."

Coach Muetzel says both young athletes are living out what Mahtomedi's program stands. "You know, when we talk about success, we talk about, you know, what kind of people we are, what kind of husband are we going to be in 10 years? What kind of son are we? What type of brother, a friend are we those types of things? Those are the qualities that we want to instill."

Do you know someone who is making a difference, or is there a business or nonprofit going above and beyond to help others? Send us your ideas for stories of "Communities that KARE" in the form below:

Watch more Communities that KARE:

MN creatives develop multimedia arts project to empower, help protect women against violence

Kids Café helps craft meaningful change for at-risk children

Watch all of the latest stories from Communities that KARE in our YouTube playlist:

Before You Leave, Check This Out