Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Duke chapter.



Not everyone at Duke will know sophomore Will Johnston. However, if I may start this article by shamelessly abusing my power as the writer, let me add that you should try and meet him. Not just a pretty face with pink bed linen, he went from never playing American Football before to being a walk-on to the Duke Division 1 Football Team.
Born in Tokyo, Japan to a Malaysian-Chinese mother and a Northern-Irish father, Will was destined to lead an interesting life after being blessed with this fabulous set of genes; a commendable work ethos from the former and stellar alcohol tolerance from the latter. What more could a young man ask for, I hear you say? Younger twin sisters to look after? Well, they arrived shortly after his 4th birthday.
Having been educated around the world, including China, Japan and the United Kingdom, Will developed deep global understanding at a young age. It was particularly at Sedbergh School in Northern England that he developed his own sense of self. In high school, he was often found on the stage where he sung and performed in various musicals. Aside from also serving as the Vice President of his Boarding House, amongst his other vast array of extra-curricular activities that caught the eye of Christoph Guttentag in the Admissions Office, it was out on the sports field that Will’s true passion for life began.
Will has always been different. At age 12, he towered from a 5’8” perspective over his peers whom had otherwise yet to experience the perks of puberty. Tired of watching his son play video games when not in the classroom, Will’s father encouraged him to take advantage of his burly physique and pursue a more active lifestyle by playing Rugby. Although Will had always been brought up supporting the Irish National Team, and admiring Captain Brian O’Driscollfrom afar, he had not previously played the game seriously. There was no turning back. He proved to be a naturally talented player.
Will’s athletic career did not stop after graduation. Despite being accepted to University College London (UCL) to read Economics and Statistics, as well as making the waitlist at University of Cambridge, Will opted for a “gap year” to take some time off; the idea of busy city life for this country boarding school boy did not appeal nor did the British higher education system in general. He was craving something different, a path less travelled by, if you will. (As a Duke Brit who struggled over this decision myself, this part of the interview was certainly familiar.)
Rihanna wouldn’t say Will found America in a hopeless place. Rather, he found America in Munich; in a stereotypical German beer garden filled with Lederhosen and Currywurst no less. It was on his all-male euro trip that he found himself talking to three college kids from Washington D.C. Instantly mesmerized by the way these undergraduates talked passionately about college athletics, sports-fanatic Will remembers how his “mind began spinning with excitement”. (NB: I’d be surprised if red cups, sorority girls and American-sized portions of food were not images also being turned over in his head.)
Will’s interaction with these Americans was brief, but it had a profound effect on him; he had not been previously aware of how much hard work and funding are channeled into making college sports in the United States such an integral part of a university. The idea of applying to America was now firmly planted in his head, but he was aware that tackling the infamous Common Application and moving to a new country would be a big decision. So, it was at this point that Will made a deal with himself: “the only way that I could justify moving to America for college was if I played a Division 1 Sport.”
Although this is a huge task for any high school graduate to suddenly ask of themself, Will was not afraid of the challenge. After narrowing his choices down though to Skiing and Rugby, neither of these seemed feasible: Skiing was not truly his sport and who in America even knows what Rugby is? Most people would forget the whole idea at this point, accepting resignation, but Will had another idea – he would learn to play American Football.
Whilst continuing to work at his finance job during his year off, he now switched his suit for his cleats in the evenings to learn how to play Football. Despite his prior experience on the Rugby field, he readily admits that he “never expected the transition from rugby to football to be so hard”. Nevertheless, this did not deter him from continuing to learn at a sports club in the evening where he soon fell in love with the game. Then, after being accepted to eight colleges on April 1st , he had another big decision to make.
This is the part in the interview where I assumed he immediately picked Duke. Right?
Will shot me a cheeky yet slightly embarrassed grin over the large late-night meal he had just ordered from the Tower at 10pm (#athlete) as he admitted that he did not immediately choose to be a Blue Devil. He did some much-needed damage control by explaining how the University of Notre Dame was showering him with gifts, including an oil painting of their campus and a free plane ticket to visit. It was only because he had a few spare days after being in Indianna that he decided to fly down to North Carolina:“I had nothing to lose.”
We must forgive this clueless Brit though, for he soon saw sense. After arriving on campus and learning about how the Duke Football Program actively recruits walk-ons, amongst the other great qualities our Gothic Wonderland has to offer, he was sold. He officially chose Duke to be his Alma mater (cue generic Facebook status: DUKE CLASS OF 2014!!).
After heading back to England, he continued to work hard on his Football skills. When not doing this, he wrote emails to the Duke coaches to make them aware of his intentions to join the team as a non-recruit. Will admits to being slightly disheartened by the response hereceived: “they gave me vague replies telling me to attend tryouts once the season begun.”Determined more than ever to succeed, Will told himself: “I am going to make the team regardless of what happens even if it means training by myself throughout the semester.”
Freshman year soon rolled around. Whilst excited to get to know his new peers, Will was eager to put his newly acquired skills to the test. Open tryouts were soon held and the coaches immediately could see that this fresh-faced international 19-year-old had speed and great potential. Defying all odds initially hedged against him, Will was ecstatic to learn that he had indeed made it as a walk-on to the team, in the position of wide receiver.
Looking back now as a 2nd semester sophomore, it has already been an experience. Will admits that he “struggled with the American team as it was so different to being with (his) smaller group of rugby lads” at first. However, after quickly familiarizing himself with this new sport and the way of life on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, Will shared, “I now love the guys; they have good intensity and I’ve made some great friends.” Will also sadly suffered a setback last spring when he started experiencing pain in his foot. Despite initially hoping it was treatable with ordinary painkillers, it turned out to be a stress fracture in his left tarsal navicular that required surgery, two pins and no running for three months. Nevertheless, Will soon bounced back and has been very much back in action this year.
When asked how he juggles being an Economics/Computer Science double major as well as being an active member of the Football Team, Will chuckled;  “summer classes and the odd all-nighter that I would rather forget…it hasn’t been easy but I can’t imagine being at Duke and not playing competitive sport.” Despite the ruthless training sessions and early morning wake-ups, Will knows that running onto the field for each game at Wallace Wade Stadium with his 100 teammates through the smoke, adrenaline pumping, makes it all worthwhile.
Before parting ways, he ended the interview on a note that we both smiled and agreed upon: “deciding to move to America for college was the best decision I ever made.”

* * * * * *



Duke Contributors!
Sabrina is a Junior at Duke University, and is double majoring in English and Public Policy. A born and bred South African, Sabrina has traveled to the USA to pursue her higher education. As well as being a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, Sabrina is also Assistant Vice President for Recruitment for the Panhellenic Association at Duke. Sabrina has written for Duke's daily newspaper, The Chronicle and Duke's fashion magazine, FORM. After graduating, she hopes to attend law school preferably in her favourite city, New York. In her spare time, Sabrina vegges out to various fashion blogs, mindless TV (Pretty Little Liars anyone?) and online shopping (which borders on an addiction). If you manage to catch her in an energetic mood, she's probably on her way to cardiodance (or to the nearest mall).