Several months ago, Freddie Maggard struggled with an idea to honor a dear friend of Kentucky Sports Radio and the Big Blue Nation. Tom Cannon was a man of faith, courage, and integrity, who lived every day to the fullest.
As a school teacher at Winburn Middle School in Lexington, his students admired him and viewed him as a role model. Tom regularly attended Kentucky football games and cheered from kickoff to the final buzzer, regardless of the outcome. He was part of what made the Big Blue Nation the greatest fanbase in college sports.
In Spring of 2016, Tom felt ill and went to the doctor to look for answers. Unable to clarify any specific diagnoses, the doctors sent him on his way. At the Kentucky vs. South Carolina football game later that Fall, he started feeling worse than ever before, and had to exit the game early. Like many Kentucky fans, Tom bemoaned those that left early from games, so the family knew something wasn’t right. On the Monday immediately following the game, Cannon made his way back to the doctor, where he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Those close to Cannon say he received excellent care and treatment at the UK Markey Cancer Center, but his health never seemed to improve the way doctors hoped.
After a hard-fought battle, the Big Blue Nation lost Tom Cannon on August 7, 2017.
So how do you honor a man that gave it his all up until the very last moments of his life?
The end result: The inaugural presentation of the Tom Cannon Courage Award.
Maggard announced the first-annual Tom Cannon Courage Award, an honor that will be presented each year to the University of Kentucky student-athlete who exemplifies a commitment to the principals of sportsmanship and courage in overcoming and excelling past obstacles in their way. The recipient will symbolize professionalism, great strength and dedication to their community and team.
When it came to choosing the first-ever recipient of the award, the vote came easy.
Former Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson.
Johnson was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome as a child, but through his faith in God, constant prayer, and his emotional connection with sports, he was able to overcome the adversities. He has since taken other children going through similar troubles under his wing to help as much as possible. He also regularly visits the hospital to visit children in need.
And that’s everything outside of football.
On the field, Johnson displayed courage every time he laced up his cleats and threw on a helmet, no matter how difficult that may have been.
Exiting the game due to injury, and then skying through the air to beat Tennessee in the final seconds. Getting hurt in the bowl game, but coming back to put his team back in position to win. Jumping in to save the day when Drew Barker went down with injury. You name it, we saw it from Johnson night in and night out.
After the season ended, Johnson told KSR that he played this year with two injured shoulders and a knee, and needed several surgeries to recover from the damage he took.
Stephen Johnson literally put his football career on the line for the University of Kentucky, and would do it again in a heartbeat. If there was ever an individual to earn an award for resiliency and courageousness, the former Wildcat quarterback would win ten times out of ten.
And Cannon would approve.
Last week, Maggard’s idea finally came to fruition, as the inaugural Tom Cannon Courage Award ceremony was held at Jack Kain Ford with Stephen Johnson taking home the honors.
Take a look: