- Associated Press - Monday, October 3, 2016

ANDERSON, S.C. (AP) - Marcellus Johnson always loved to draw, but it wasn’t until his senior year at Westside High School that he decided what he wanted his career to be.

Johnson played football and ran track and field throughout high school, but he also had a love of art and sneakers.

He was in middle school when he became interested in unique types of shoes. He got into the basketball culture around the 25th anniversary of Air Force 1 shoes when his classmates would talk about them.

Now Johnson has his dream job redesigning retro shoes such as the Air Force 1s and other basketball shoes for Nike.

But finding out how to get on track to his dream job wasn’t easy. Johnson researched on the Internet and met with an employee at TTI, a plant down the street from his high school, to learn more about industrial product design.

“I had to figure out the steps,” Johnson said. “There were no guidebooks.”

After graduating Westside High School in 2007, he took the encouragement of his teachers in Anderson with him when he went to Appalachian State University and studied industrial design.

“All of my art teachers, Mrs. Spainhour, Mrs. Monroe,” he said. “Also my art teachers in middle school. That’s where I really found out I wanted to be an artist. My art teachers made me believe I could do it. Their encouragement was really great.”

And his coaches taught him to challenge and push himself to new limits, he said.

But going into college, he didn’t have a strong portfolio like some of his classmates.

“I just didn’t know a lot about the industry,” Johnson said. “I felt like I was behind.”

He made his first connections with the footwear design world in the summer of his junior year at Appalachian State when he took classes in New York at Parsons School of Design in partnership with the Pensole Footwear Design Academy. The founder of Pensole, D’Wayne Edwards, became his mentor.

After a couple of months in New York, Johnson flew to Oregon as part of a footwear design competition, directed by Edwards, geared toward high school and college students.

“It was eye opening,” Johnson said. “It was the first time going out on my own as well as meeting people from all over the world.”

After graduating college, he went to work for Edwards at Pensole Footwear Design Academy as one of the consultants for about four years before pursuing a job at Nike. He started under contract work with Nike in Oregon in January of 2015, and he was hired on full time a few months later in October.

“It’s surreal,” Johnson said of his newest job. “I’m really blessed.”

As part of his job at Nike, he not only has had to design a shoe, but tell a story behind the inspiration of the shoe through color and design.

Johnson has had numerous travel opportunities and has even met famous people such as LeBron James. He also designed a pair of shoes for Ken Griffey Jr. for his Baseball Hall of Fame induction earlier this year.

Last month, Johnson returned to his hometown and spoke to students. .

“It’s a little crazy, but I’m glad I have an opportunity to do it,” he said. “We have to pay it forward and let them know they can do it too.”

Johnson held up a mold of the first shoe he ever designed for the students to see in the class, and then told them about the design process and how to tell a story.

“I had a dream about being a footwear designer…” he said to a group of students in a marketing class at the Anderson 5 Career Campus. “If you have a vision, go after it now.”

Then Johnson challenged the students in George Mathis’s marketing class to design their own sports product, whether it be a shoe or clothing.

“For him to go to Westside and be this big designer is pretty inspiring,” said T.L. Hanna sophomore Brooklyn Crosby.

Crosby loves shoes and didn’t realize being a shoe designer was a career option until Johnson spoke in her class.

“Even if you’re from a small town you can still make it and do your dream job,” she said.

By the end of the class, students already had begun making logos and deciding what product to design. The students will submit their designs to Johnson who will team up with Mathis to pick the best product.

“One of the main things we try to do is get people from the outside to come speak to classes,” Mathis said. “But getting someone from Westside who’s sat in their classrooms, and has been where they are; that’s a huge influence.”

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Information from: Anderson Independent-Mail, http://www.andersonsc.com

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