College football is a sport of cliches unlike any other. Football is family is a motto that reverberates around programs, locker rooms, and households across the country. Referring to your teammate as your brother is a commonplace occurrence.
Except there’s nothing commonplace about the brotherly relationship between Oregon quarterback Bo Nix and wide receiver Tez Johnson. Their connection goes beyond the field. Ahead of Oregon vs. Washington in one of the great storylines of college football Week 7, their brotherly relationship is literal and epitomizes “Football is Family.”
Who is Bo Nix’s Brother? The Incredible Story of His Relationship with Tez Johnson
They might not be biologically related, but don’t you even dare try and tell wide receiver Johnson and quarterback Nix that they aren’t brothers. Although he was never officially adopted by the couple, once Patrick and Krista welcomed Tez through their door as a high school kid, he became as much a part of the Nix family as Bo or any of the other children sat around the dinner table.
The latest chapter of what has been an incredible story will be written on Saturday, as Oregon takes on Washington in one of the biggest games of the 2023 college football season. The electric connection between the two has yielded 203 receiving yards and three touchdowns for the Ducks so far this year, but their story actually began over 2,500 miles to the east.
The Nix family moved to Pinson, Alabama during Bo’s time at high school. Patrick was the high school coach at Pinson Valley High, and Bo was set to become the starting quarterback for the football team. Wanting to familiarize himself with his new teammates and build a connection with his WR room, the young QB arranged a throwing session with his new teammates.
“I’ll never forget,” Nix says of his first encounter with the young boy who would come to be his brother, speaking in a documentary with Pac-12 Network just over a week ahead of the Oregon vs. Washington game that could define his footballing legacy, not to mention his hopes of winning the Heisman Trophy.
“I didn’t really know Tez until the day I went out there and threw for the first time. The first person that comes running out on the field is this little bitty scrawny kid, probably one of the skinniest kids I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”
“He has great ball skills, he runs great routes” Nix continues talking about Johnson. “I ask him and this dude played QB the year before. He was on JV, ninth grade QB, he didn’t even play receiver. You realize, this kid is a great kid, has great heart, he just never had the opportunity to show it. He didn’t necessarily have a great situation.”
Football was an escape for Johnson. Growing up just outside of Birmingham, Alabama, the young kid saw just about everything that you don’t want a young kid to have to see. Furthermore, his home life saw him encounter all of the difficulties that you don’t want any child to have to overcome to succeed.
Success was the dream, the goal, for the young Johnson, who always dreamed of pulling on the yellow and green of Oregon despite growing up in the heartland of SEC football. While that was the dream, survival was the reality. There was a reason why he was the “skinniest kid” Nix had ever seen in his life.
“It was a struggle coming up,” Johnson explains to the Pac-12 Network. “We didn’t have beds at one point, didn’t know where the next meal was coming from. Growing up in a crazy environment, you just see violence every day. You see shootings every day. It was just so depressing as a little kid. I never went home and I was always in trouble.”
Anyone familiar with Kyle Chandler’s portrayal of Coach Eric Taylor in Friday Night Lights knows that the role of a high school head coach extends beyond the realms of merely coaching young men to be exceptional football players. It is a role akin to a father, with your door always open to welcome players in as if your home is theirs.
As head coach at Pinson Valley High School, Patrick Nix was a real-life Coach Taylor. Recognizing one of his football team needed help achieving his potential off the field — not as as a football player but as a young man — he extended an offer that would change the direction of all their lives.
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Johnson would spend a few days with the Nix family to get a good meal, some good sleep, some structure, some direction, and some help. A few days became the rest of his life.
“I pulled up to the house, walked in, and they were sitting at the dinner table,” Johnson recalls. “I knew right then and there that I didn’t wanna leave.”
“He started living with us,” Nix continues the story of how his brother on the field became his actual brother. “Then he became a brother, and then soon after that…he’s family.”
The brothers dominated Alabama high school football together. Nix and Johnson led Pinson Valley to a Class 6A state title together in 2018, the younger brother snagging 1,457 yards and 10 touchdowns in what was his junior season. At that point, however, their journeys took very different paths.
Coming out of Pinson with all the accolades a high school quarterback could ask for, Nix had the opportunity to play wherever he wanted as the top quarterback prospect in the 2019 recruiting cycle.
Landing at Auburn, he became the first true freshman QB to start for the Tigers since 1946 and parlayed that opportunity into SEC Freshman of the Year honors while setting program records for a true freshman quarterback. However, the next two seasons would see his relationship with the program sour, leading to his transfer portal entry and commitment to Oregon in 2022.
Meanwhile, Johnson faced the burden of being labeled as an undersized receiver on the recruiting trail. FCS teams like Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State (now a CUSA team) were scattered among offers from Group of Five outfits like Middle Tennessee State and Western Kentucky.
While Nix started hot at Auburn and subsequently stumbled a little along the way, Johnson started humbly as a freshman with the Troy Trojans in the disrupted 2020 season. Each campaign thereafter, his production increased and so did his national profile.
At the end of a 2022 campaign where he tallied a career-high 863 yards and four touchdowns, helping lead the Trojans to the Sun Belt Championship in the process, Johnson entered the transfer portal — immediately becoming one of the most sought-after wide receivers in the nation.
His destination was obvious. His childhood dream was realized.
“The first day he moved into our house, he’s wearing an Oregon sweatshirt” Nix reflected in a Pac-12 Network sideline interview following Oregon’s landslide win over Portland State to open the 2023 college football season.
“Next thing you know, we’re playing football together at Oregon after neither of us went there out of [high school.]”
For the first time since 2018 at Pinson High School, the two brothers get to play on the same field, on the same team. Blood may be thicker than water, but you’ll struggle to find a brotherly connection as strong as the one between Nix and Johnson — both on and off the football field.