Billy Johns came to Lehigh from Georgia and was immediately thrown into the spotlight in an unfamiliar environment.
“Billy (Johns) came in as our best recruit from his class,” coach Henry D’Alberto said, “One of the things he and I have talked about since his freshman year is constantly improving and working hard.”
He began his career at Lehigh starting every single golf tournament. A true freshman had come to Lehigh and was on his way to stardom. But with stardom comes pressure, and for a first year student, it’s almost impossible to balance your life.
“Overall as a student and as an athlete, really managing the time I give to whatever I’m involved in, that’s really what I took away from Lehigh,” Johns said, “And that ties into how I handle myself now as a student. If I spend my time somewhere I’m going to make the most out of it and do that absolute best I can to make sure that i’m constantly learning, constantly improving on whatever skills I’m working on.”
On track to complete a degree in mechanical engineering this spring, Johns has had a chance to look back and reflect on all he’s accomplished. He is a team leader and has been since he started college. He’s managed to keep a well above average grade point average while maintaining a spot on the Patriot League Honor Roll. But none of this was what he expected.
“When I first heard about Lehigh it was the school that ruined my bracket when they beat Duke.” Johns said, “But once I got talking to coach (Joe Zelechoski) and coach D’Alberto I really found a good place here.”
Even though he had never had any experience with Lehigh, he jumped right in immediately snd his presence was felt. He steamrolled past any competition, making it to multiple Patriot League tournaments and inspiring those below him.
“I definitely think that the leadership aspect and leading your team by example is a big thing that he’s done,” junior golfer Max Redetzke said. “Being that he is the only senior, he takes on a lot of responsibility to act as an upperclassman leader. He shows the way to a lot of us underclassmen and helps us get acclimated.”
But for Johns, golf isn’t about the accolades and the praise that can get shoveled upon you. There’s a deeper sense of learning and contentment that you get from the sport. Johns said to succeed in golf you have to dedicate hours upon hours to honing your craft until you are a finely tuned machine.
You have to control yourself in all circumstances, suppressing emotions while being at the top of your game. You learn to lead, you learn to become more than yourself.
“Billy (Johns) is really good because he leads by example,” Redetzke said, “I learned that you really need to be dedicated and really focused when you’re at practice because you really don’t have a lot of time to practice, so he taught me how to lead by example and how to balance school and golf.”
Johns didn’t just take his awards and fade into obscurity, he dedicated himself wholly to the team in every facet. You can ask anyone on the golf team about Johns and immediately see the warm glow in their face as they talk about how he’s helped them.
“When I was a freshman he helped me get acclimated to life as a student athlete,” Redetzke said, “and as a senior he still continues to lead us and I think a lot of us still look up to him as a leader.”
Even though Johns is graduating soon that’s not the end of his career at Lehigh, as his love for the golf program and his love for education keep pulling him back. Billy plans to pursue graduate work at Lehigh, earning his masters in mechanical engineering all while returning to the team in a leadership position, a position where he can continue to do what he loves, being a mentor and a person to look up to.
“My teammates know that whenever they need something I’m there for them,” Johns said, “and that won’t change going into grad school and for my co-captain Owen who’s going to have another co-captain alongside him next year, I think that having me around will help them if they have any questions.”
Johns is not a character that will fade away when his time is up, he wants to leave behind something larger than himself, and everyone from his teammates to his coaches know that.
“He’s the type of kid I can count on and trust,” coach D’Alberto said, “and I think he would be a benefit to the program, where some guys could be a distraction, but I actually think that Billy could benefit the guys considering he knows them and was successful and could offer them perspective from a different role now.”
Its not just the coaches that see what Johns can offer by coming back, his teammates will give the same answer. Johns is a figure to look up to. He’s someone that is willing to help during rough times. While many can see graduation as a way out, Johns sees it as a way to contribute in an entirely new way, a way that may mean more than his time as an undergraduate at Lehigh.
“Obviously he’s been on the team for four years and he’s been a captain for three of them so hes got a lot of good experience and he’s the only senior so he’s always probably looked at himself as a leader among the team and I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t just step into an advisory role next year.” Redetzke said.
For Johns, the golf team is much more than an organization where he can play around and improve his game. Johns said golf is about dedicating yourself entirely to something, and throwing your whole lot into it in order to create something larger than yourself.
Awards and accolades may be nice, but there’s no substitution for looking back, and seeing the people you’ve inspired taking charge and leading the new path forwards.