Bears

One year after friend’s death, Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson works to ‘shine a light on his spirit’

Arrest has not been made in Fresno, California, shooting of Johnson’s friend, Kev’Vion Schrubb

The phone rang at four in the morning.

Jaylon Johnson woke up and saw his high school buddy Carl Holmes’ name on his cellphone. In that instant, Johnson felt something was wrong. Holmes knew better than to call Johnson in the middle of the night during training camp. Johnson, the Bears cornerback, had practice the next morning at Halas Hall.

“It was one of those things where it’s like, he’s not calling me to tell me anything good right now,” Johnson told Shaw Local.

One of Johnson’s best friends from high school, Kev’Vion Schrubb had been shot and killed in the early morning hours of Aug. 8, 2021, in Fresno, California. Schrubb was 22 years old.

Schrubb was someone Johnson called his best friend, someone he called a brother. They had known each other since fifth grade, growing up in Fresno. Sports, namely basketball and football, brought them together, but countless nights sleeping over at each other’s houses made their bond strong. Their friendship blossomed when they entered high school at Central East High School in Fresno.

Johnson recently opened up about his friend’s murder in an interview with Shaw Local right around the one-year anniversary of the shooting last month. He still remembers that sinking feeling at 4 o’clock in the morning. There was no preparing for news like that. Johnson didn’t sleep the rest of the night. In the morning, he told his coaches what happened, but he didn’t miss practice.

The circumstances surrounding the shooting remain unclear. Schrubb was shot multiple times at a party in Fresno. According to a statement from Fresno police at the time, there was “a physical disturbance between two groups of male subjects” that led to gunfire.

According to 911 call logs obtained by Shaw Local, nearby residents reported hearing anywhere from eight to 12 gunshots shortly after midnight.

A year later, an arrest has not been made. A Fresno police spokesperson said the investigation is still ongoing.

“It’s a lot of he say, she say, in terms of the actual truth,” Johnson said. “But I feel like it just came down to he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Johnson is frustrated that an arrest hasn’t been made, but he knows it won’t bring back his friend.

“It’s definitely something that you want a solution,” Johnson said. “You want something to be done.”

Those first few days, Schrubb’s death didn’t feel real. So Johnson carried on. Training camp is one of the busiest times of year in the NFL. There was work to be done. Johnson was entering his second professional season. After a successful rookie year in 2020, he was now the featured cornerback in the Bears’ defense. He knew that Schrubb would’ve wanted him to keep working.

When Johnson took a personal day and went back to Fresno for the funeral, about two weeks after the shooting, that’s when the finality of his friend’s death hit him.

“Seeing his family hurt,” Johnson said. “Seeing all the guys back together and just seeing the pain of him being gone. Really seeing his body was a different, it was something different for me.”

To this day, Johnson will type the letter K into his contacts and see his friend’s name pop up. It hurts a little bit every time.

‘Something special’

During high school, Schrubb and Johnson ran in the same circle. There were a handful of boys who were tight and they all played football together at Central East. Shimeka Conway was one of their counsellors at Central East, and it was her responsibility to make sure that athletes with college aspirations took care of their academics.

She spent a lot of time with Johnson, who went on to play college ball at Utah, and Schrubb, who briefly played college football at Division II Western Colorado. Johnson and his friends began calling Conway their aunt. They remain close to this day.

“I call him [Johnson] my nephew now,” Conway said. “Like I’m his aunt, and he’s my nephew. I call Kev my nephew, too. Our relationship definitely has expanded outside of school.”

Johnson and Schrubb got to know each other playing youth sports, and they and their friends were on a mission to play for Central East football. Schrubb was, in Johnson’s words, a “freak athlete.” Among their friends, he grew up the fastest and was bigger and stronger than everybody else in their grade.

“He was the man-child of the group,” Johnson said. “He had a deep voice since fifth grade, always had a deep voice. He always had an eight-pack, muscles poking out front to back.”

Johnson was always the hardest-working guy in the room, said Kyle Biggs, their high school football coach. Biggs took over as the Central East football coach during the offseason ahead of their senior year. On the football field, Johnson and Schrubb both played cornerback. They were tasked with locking down the opponent’s best receivers. Both also played wide receiver on offense.

Biggs said that if a player was ever upset or if someone ever missed practice, Biggs went to Schrubb to find out why.

“As soon as I stepped on campus, I knew that they were going to be something special,” Biggs said. “They were going to do something. Whether it was in football or another avenue, they were going to be successful just because they have that drive and determination.”

During their senior season, the football team went 11-2. Biggs recalled one play against Buchanan during that season when Johnson and their friend Malik White blocked three or four defenders for Schrubb. It epitomized their relationship, in Biggs’ eyes.

“It didn’t matter who got the credit, who made the play, they were all going to help each other out,” Biggs said.

‘Keeping his name alive’

After high school, Schrubb briefly went away to college, but his heart remained in Fresno. Conway couldn’t reiterate enough how much Schrubb loved his hometown. He moved back to Fresno and started his own clothing line, No Love. While his peers were off at college, he wasn’t afraid to take his own path. That’s something Johnson loved about his friend. Schrubb was an entrepreneur, and he took pride in being an entrepreneur. He also used his platform to give back to the community, frequently donating clothes to the homeless in Fresno.

Johnson recalled Schrubb sharing clothes and shoes with him when they were growing up. It made perfect sense to Johnson that Schrubb would do the same as an adult.

Schrubb always kept tabs on the Central East football team, too. Biggs said Schrubb would come to many games and occasionally even drop by practice, long after his playing days were over.

“Just that infectious smile he had and just how everyone, you couldn’t find somebody who had a negative thing to say about the kid,” Biggs said.

Every once in a while Schrubb popped into Conway’s office and told his “Aunty” that it was time to go out for lunch.

“Literally sometimes I would be typing, I would look up and that big smile is just standing in my doorway,” Conway said.

In the weeks before his death last year, Schrubb told Conway how excited he was to walk his little sister to school on the first day of her freshman year at Central East.

He never had the chance. When Schrubb died, Johnson knew he had to do something to honor his friend. That’s when he created a nonprofit foundation in Schrubb’s name, Kevvy’s Vision.

“For the most part, young, African American males, they get gunned down, their murders go unsolved, and they’re just forgotten,” said Conway, who is on the Kevvy’s Vision board. “It’s just, this happened and they’re forgotten. For us, for Jaylon, it’s important that Kev’s not forgotten.”

Last year, around the holidays, Kevvy’s Vision provided gifts and groceries for more than 100 Fresno-area families. Over the summer, the nonprofit sponsored a football camp at Central East.

The 23-year-old Johnson is not a passive participant in the efforts, said his brother Johnny Johnson. He’s on the phone with vendors, he’s helping organize events.

“He’s not just opening the nonprofit and everybody else is doing it,” said Johnny Johnson, who lives with his brother and serves as his personal trainer. “No. He’s having Zoom meetings, he’s on the phone, he’s making phone calls. He’s actually in it.”

Since Schrubb’s death, Jaylon Johnson has looked at life a little differently. He has two items hanging in his locker at Halas Hall. On one side, there’s a photo of his 2-year-old daughter. On the other side, there’s a copy of Schrubb’s obituary.

Ever since that 4 a.m. phone call woke him up, Johnson thinks more about the impact he has on the world, and the impact he’ll leave behind when he’s gone one day. He wants to be remembered for the good he did, and he wants the same for his friend.

“People remember him for the right reasons,” Johnson said. “Keeping his name alive, I feel like, is really going to do that. Shine a light on his spirit and what he stood for.”

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.