Utah Football Safety Tao Johnson Discusses Pride In Native Heritage

Apr 14, 2024, 11:05 AM | Updated: 11:16 am

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah football safety Tao Johnson is extra proud to play for the Utes, seeing it as an extended celebration of his Native American heritage.

Johnson is a budding star for the Utes in the defensive backfield, drawing comparisons to some of the greats such as Robert Johnson, Marcus Williams, and Julian Blackmon.

The potential star power Johnson has on the field plus his Native heritage could blow up and inspire people who often don’t see themselves outside the reservations they live on. It’s a source of pride for Johnson knowing he has the power to do something uplifting for the Native people he represents.


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Tao Johnson Discusses Native American Pride

Johnson is part Piute and Northern Arapaho making his connection to a Utah program that represents the Ute tribe a little deeper than most.

“That’s everything to be able to have a lot of supporters who live on reservations and don’t really get to see a lot of role models come out of where they are from,” Johnson said. “It’s amazing to be a role model for me, and even other Native American kids across the country, and all over the place.”

All Utah Athletic teams wear what is either known as the Drum and Feather or the Circle and Feather on their jerseys that was designed by a Ute tribe member in 1975. Naturally, for Johnson, that logo holds a little extra meaning.

“It’s pride,” Johnson said. “That is part of my heritage and that’s part of where I come from. That’s part of what runs in my blood. Just being prideful and playing like a warrior every time I go out there.”

The Alissa Pili Effect

Johnson isn’t the only recent Utah athlete with Native American heritage either.

Former Utah quarterback Kendal Thompson (2014-2015) often talked about his Kiowa heritage and the source of pride it brought him representing the Utes.

Even more recently, Utah women’s basketball star Alissa Pili, who is part Inupiaq became a phenomenon this past season drawing crowds of Indigenous wherever the Utes went.


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Johnson is hopeful he can have a similar impact.

“I think a lot of people didn’t know that about me either,” Johnson said. “I don’t think you can really tell based off of how I look, but I would hope to be in a position like that. To be able to inspire kids all over the place.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on XInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Utah Football Safety Tao Johnson Discusses Pride In Native Heritage