LARAMIE -- Andrew Johnson's goal is to fly around War Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon, making plays out of the Cowboys' secondary during the annual spring football game.

Less than 24 hours later, he'll be flying over it.

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One solid performance could land him in the rotation at the free safety spot this fall. The other, another step toward achieving a childhood dream -- securing his pilot's license. Sunday, Johnson will perform his first solo flight, taking off from the Laramie Regional Airport.

But first, he has business to take care of.

"You know, honestly, I'm not nervous about either," the sophomore said. "The solo is a big moment on that side of my aviation career. Then the spring game can have a big impact on my future in this program. So, I just take them one day at a time and focus on them.

"Focus on the spring game first, then focus on the solo after that."


That's the word Craig Bohl used this week when describing the 6-foot-1, 192-pound Cheyenne Central graduate. While Johnson has yet to see the field in his two seasons in Laramie, Wyoming's head coach said the promise he has shown this spring could land him a reserve role.

"(He) had good test scores, but hadn't really shown it on the football field," Bohl said. "He's making really good progress, so we're excited."

Johnson was a unanimous 4A First Team All-State selection at wide receiver and defensive back during his final two high school seasons. As a senior, he was named to the Sports Illustrated All-American Watch List after hauling in 77 passes and racking up 1,050 receiving yards. Johnson was the only Wyoming native to earn that honor.

He was also the runner-up for the Wyoming Coaches Association Offensive Player of the Year.

Mountain West foes Nevada and Air Force showed interest in Johnson. So did Montana, the Colorado School of Mines and a whole host of NAIA programs. The Wyoming state flag headband he wore under his helmet in high school, though, was almost a dead giveaway he was Laramie bound.

He still sports it today.

Soon, he could be the next in-state product to crack the Cowboys' lineup.

"It obviously feels good," he said, referring to being on Bohl's radar. "It shows that some of the work I'm doing is not going unnoticed. I mean, I've been focusing on just one day at a time to get better and be in the positions that I want to be in to be successful. (I want to) be in a spot where the coaches feel comfortable putting me in a game and executing in a game."



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Speaking of execution.

Bohl also has his pilot's license. He often talks about his memorable first solo flight.

The pressure, chaos and anxiety only amplified by radar screens, numerous gauges and the blinking lights of an illuminated cockpit. Buttons. So many buttons.

"I take off, God, my heart's going 100 miles per hour," he said in July of 2021, gasping and playing the part, adding that he was circling high above the airport in his Mooney aircraft. "I have to get this thing down. They told me, 'OK, whatever you do -- you got all this stuff going on -- just get the landing gear down.'"

Just 100 feet above the runway, red warning lights began to blink.

"I didn't have the damn landing gear down," he said with a nervous laugh.

That was Bohl's main advice Thursday for his young safety. Johnson said that won't be a problem, there's not a retractable landing gear on his aircraft.

All of the compiled hours in the air so far have come with a flight instructor by his side. They've flown to places like Fort Collins, Cheyenne and Saratoga. A cross-country journey is in the near future.

Johnson's destination on Sunday -- look straight up.

Wyoming safety Andrew Johnson shares a photo from one of his flights over Laramie.
Wyoming safety Andrew Johnson shares a photo from one of his flights over Laramie.

"I will be the only one in the plane if anything happens," Johnson said of his local flight. "I am the pilot in command and it's all on me. I feel really confident with where I'm at."

He doesn't yet know if he will go the military route, fly commercial or become an instructor himself. All options are on the table, he said. One thing is certain, the elements of Wyoming -- elevation, mountains, snow and wind -- serve as the perfect learning environment.

Just yesterday, Johnson said, the plane he was operating was forced to "crab" onto the runway. Essentially, that means the plane is pointed in one direction but moving in another.

"I always say, if I can be a good pilot out of Laramie, wherever I go with my career, I'll be a really decent pilot, because, weather is a pain here," he joked. "There have been days we canceled because of the wind, but there's also a lot of days that you suck it up and you deal with the wind and you learn from the wind."

History also tells us operating out of the back end of Wyoming's defense isn't a bad gig, either.

"I mean, spring game, scrimmages, every practice, you're always being evaluated," Johnson said. "Saturday's just another opportunity to go out there and show that I can make plays. I just want to get better in all parts of my game. That's important."

* Full transparency, Andrew Johnson's father, DJ Johnson, is the lead photographer for

Just The Facts: Size Doesn't Matter For Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium

Did you know it would take the populations of Gillette (32,857), Laramie (32,381), Rock Springs (23,319), Sheridan (17,844) and Wright (1,200) to create a sellout inside Michigan's famed 107,601-seat Big House, the largest college football stadium in the nation?

For those of you not familiar with the Cowboy State, those are Wyoming's third through sixth most inhabited cities, along with the small mining town in Campbell County.

- Just The Facts: Size Doesn't Matter For Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium

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