Devonric Johnson is familiar to many North Texans from his time as a four-year starter on the SMU Mustangs football team, spots in commercials for North Texas Honda and Dick's Sporting Goods and, of course, his appearances in the 2010 and 2011 Hot Issue editions of DFW.com.
Most people in DFW are unaware of the inspirational story that exists behind the good looks and million dollar smile that began in Terrell when from age 5-13, Johnson lived in a shack with four other people with no running water, gas or utilities. He began to roam the streets at age 10 and got mixed up in gangs before being adopted at 13.
"School is the one thing I was always better at than everybody," Johnson said. "I considered school a safe haven away from my crazy home life."
Beginning in the seventh grade, he took up football, playing linebacker and running back and he discovered it was the perfect forum to release all of his anger. Since his father owned a construction company, the only way out of having to work after school was to be involved in activities. Johnson took school involvement to an exponential level as he also played basketball, ran track, was a member of the National Honor Society, Who's Who, was involved in choir and drama and was elected class president and homecoming king all while graduating in the top five percent of his class.
"I had offers to play football at Yale, Harvard, UCLA and Texas A&M," Johnson said. "But in the end, I chose to stay close to home and play at SMU." He was joined by his adoptive brother Sterling Harris, who also turned down offers from high profile programs including Notre Dame, LSU and Arkansas to play at SMU.
While Johnson was attracting interest from the NFL, he got a concussion in a game against TCU. The result was post-concussion syndrome and the doctors warned him that he could "become a vegetable if he continued to play football."
"I was really lost," Johnson said. "Because football had saved my life."
In what would seem to only happen in a Hollywood movie, Johnson was working at Hollister at Grapevine Mills mall and was discovered by casting people for the VH1 show "Kept." That opportunity steered him to the entertainment industry that has included catalog modeling, runway shows, spots in commercials and acting. He has landed many jobs, including spots for Acura, Nike, Target, Dillard's, Nordstrom, 24 Hour Fitness, Belk, Frito Lay and Neiman Marcus. He also started his own non-profit Brothers by Choice where he and Harris share their story with at-risk kids "with the promise of change through the power of choice."
Johnson moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting and in Feb. 2012, he was cast on Syfy's Robot Combat League. "Robot Combat League" features tournament style near-gladiatorial combat between 8-foot-tall humanoid robots controlled by people -- picture a reality show version of the movie Real Steel starring Hugh Jackman. The series hosted by WWE wrestler Chris Jericho features 12 teams consisting of a fighter -- "robo-jockey" -- and a robotics engineer -- "robo-tech" -- from all different backgrounds. The robots were designed and created by robotics expert Mark Setrakian, whose film credits include Men in Black and the upcoming Pacific Rim.
"Robot Combat League's" premiere drew over 1.3 million total viewers, Syfy's best unscripted series premiere in over two years among viewers 18-49. Johnson will be featured on the March 5 episode and you can cast your vote for his Team Brimstone here.
While the new series is already on its way to becoming a hit, Johnson is confident that it will show off his fighting skills as he strives for a career in action movies much like Will Smith in Bad Boys II. He is also hopeful that his appearing on the show will open doors for more for speaking engagements that will allow him to follow his true passion of helping kids.
"Robot Combat League" airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Syfy.