Tyriek Johnson Jr.’s Tuesday football workout was interrupted by a flood of social media notifications, way more than usual for the Mill Creek senior.
His tweet from earlier in the day about voting in Georgia’s runoff election — he turned 18 in November and voted for the first time — had picked up considerable momentum despite its simple message.
“First time voting felt great to go make a difference!” Johnson posted with a photo after voting with his parents, Tyriek and Tamika.
It didn’t take long to figure out why his post went viral.
“It was crazy,” Johnson said. “I went to the football field and was working out, playing music on my phone, and I kept getting crazy notifications. I checked my phone and a whole bunch of people were saying thank you for voting. I thought, ‘Wow, why is this blowing up?’ I checked to see who re-Tweeted it and it said ‘Barack Obama.’ I just went into shock. I felt like I was dreaming.”
The 44th President of the United States not only re-Tweeted Johnson’s post, he included a special note.
“Great to see you out there, Tyriek,” Obama wrote in his re-Tweet. “First-time voters are making a difference today!”
Johnson still wonders how Obama found his Tweet, particularly since he didn’t include any hashtags to denote his experience as a first-time voter, and he enjoyed watching the social media response the past couple of days.
His original post had more than 79,000 likes, 430 quote Tweets and 3,700 re-Tweets as of Thursday afternoon. Obama’s re-Tweet with his comment had 78,000-plus likes, 155 quote Tweets and almost 4,000 re-Tweets.
Among quote Tweets was one from actress Debra Messing and another from the San Francisco 49ers with the message, “#FTTB from Georgia. We see you Faithful, way to show up & VOTE.” Johnson’s father wore a 49ers T-shirt in the group photo, which caught the NFL team’s attention.
“(My dad’s) a huge 49ers fan,” said Johnson, who moved to Gwinnett from Youngstown, Ohio when he was 10. “He’s been a 49ers fan his whole life. He was excited about that.”
The faculty and high school students at Mill Creek were just as surprised to see Johnson’s Tweet get a Presidential response.
“When I first checked it, I thought, ’There’s no way,’ because there are so many parody (accounts on Twitter),” Mill Creek head football coach Josh Lovelady said. “Nothing against Tyriek, I would think the same thing if he commented on mine. I thought it was somebody pretending to be Obama, like ‘Alright, somebody’s messing with Tyriek.’ But I looked closer and it was him. … It was a refreshing, feel-good story regardless of where your political views stand. It was a kid who was excited to vote the American way. Regardless of who he voted for, he was fired up to be an American.”
The social media spike for Johnson didn’t stop at Twitter. The highlight video of his senior season at Mill Creek had around 100 views on Hudl.com before Tuesday, and it had almost 1,200 views by Thursday afternoon, a boost that ultimately could lead to more college football opportunities.
The cornerback, who has a 3.2 GPA and is considering a major in business, already had college football offers before this week, but said the attention has grown since his interaction with Obama. The whole experience is still mind-boggling for the high-schooler.
“I wanted to vote for the first time and go make a difference and exercise my right,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to show it was my first time voting on Twitter. I didn’t expect all of this to happen.”