Oregon Governor Katie Brown declared a wildfire emergency in her state on Sept. 8.
The fires prompted evacuations and destroyed towns.
Ceres High School grad Conner Johnson and his Southern Oregon University dormmates were put on standby for evacuation.
Every student packed a bag just in case they had to flee the college, which is located in Ashland.
“We had a fire less than two miles from campus,” said Johnson, a redshirt junior long snapper with the university’s football program. “Everything north of us is in ashes. The fire caused so much devastation. As of right now, we’re still in the dorms.”
Winds prevented the fire from spreading to Southern Oregon University.
But surrounding communities were decimated.
Football activities were suspended until further notice.
“We were just starting to get into the swing of things,” Johnson said. “We stopped our training because so many players were affected by it (fires).”
The university has offered emergency shelter and other assistance to residents from communities around Southern Oregon who were directly impacted.
The school’s Student Recreation Center is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“It’s a different set of tasks every time I clock in,” said Johnson, who works at the front desk as a student employee lead. “My specific job the last couple of days was to welcome families that came in and offer them food and water. We’re trying to get them out of the smoke. I haven’t seen the community this unified since I’ve been here. We’ll emerge from this so much stronger.”
Johnson has spent so much time in Ashland, the city has become his second home.
Caden Johnson, Conner’s older brother, played wide receiver for Southern Oregon from 2013-17.
“It felt like home before I came here as a freshman,” Conner said. “It’s so awful to see the devastation. Everything is burned. Homes, restaurants and buildings are gone. Gas stations are blown up. It’s just coal and ash left and right.”
Southern Oregon University’s fall semester begins today.
The majority of courses are being offered online.
“Everything is remote learning except for lab classes,” Johnson said.
The football season was moved to the spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re preparing as if our season will be happening in March,” Johnson said. “We lost a lot of seniors because they decided to forego their last season because it got postponed. I sure hope there’s going to be a season.”
Johnson will handle snaps for punts, field goals and extra points.
“As of right now, I’m the starting snapper,” Johnson said. “I’m still going to work hard. I want to get stronger and faster. Working on accuracy is a huge thing. I have a promising future if I keep practicing and getting better.”
Johnson will no longer play tight end.
“I’ll miss catching the ball,” Johnson stated. “But I love football enough to give up a position to keep perfecting my craft of long snapping. I’ve been having one-on-one sessions with him (volunteer special teams coach Kevin McDermott). He played in the NFL. He said I’m perfect size and my snaps are fast enough to pursue a career (in football) outside of college.”
If the 2020 football season gets canceled, Johnson will once again suit up for Southern Oregon’s track and field team.
“I came here for football,” he said. “Track was the cherry on the top. I’m less than 10 meters away from going to Nationals in the hammer throw.”