NEWTON, Texas — Family, friends, and players gathered on the football of Newton High School to remember legendary coach W.T. Johnston. 

Coach Johnston passed away on May 11 after a hard battle with chronic lung disease.

He is remembered as one of the most inspiring high school coaches in the state of Texas.

Emotion filled the stadium Wednesday evening, where a couple thousand people packed the stands as if it was a Friday night in the fall.

This time though, they were here for more than just football.

"When you see those stands start to fill up, those aren't going to be football fans, they're not going to be fans of W.T. or even the players," said Heather Foster, mother of former Newton football player. "They are coming to see and memorialize the man that he was, the food man that he was."

RELATED | Former Newton football coach W.T. Johnston leaves impact on sports world

Friends of Coach Johnston took to the stage, sharing stories about the impact he had on them.

One of them was Gary Neece, who grew close to W.T. after he formed a strong bond with his younger brother, Booty, before he died of brain cancer.

Neece spoke with 12News on Sunday saying "One of the last things my little brother told W.T. a couple days before he died was 'keep your eyes on the cross brother,' that stuck with W.T."

That message also stuck with the entire crowd on Wednesday.


According to those who spoke and others in the Newton community, Coach Johnston's faith was his biggest strength. 

"He was pretty much training me in a sense of how to be proud in God," said Kedrin Seastrunk, former Newton football payer. "It does say it takes a village to raise a child and I feel as if he was doing his part."

To no surprise, Newton honored the christian values Coach Johnston routinely passed onto his players and others.


The school created a big purple "N" on the field, with the verse Isaiah 40:31 written underneath, symbolizing the impact their fallen coach had on his community.

"He was a great mentor to me, not just me but everybody in the community. he was like another father figure to me and everybody in community," said Newton football player James Sylvester. "He just helped us a lot with everything, he pushed us to great men and others to be great women, a big help in everything in life."

Coach Johnston's on the field stats were impressive, winning more than 86 percent of his games in eight seasons and of course bringing home back-to-back state championships in 2017-18.

If that isn't hard enough, he did all of that while battling a rare disease that forced him to carry around an oxygen tank everywhere he went.

Coach Johnston wasn't expected to live past last season. 

Yet, he soared past expectations using the strength of the Lord and love for his players, to continue having a positive impact on others.

Former Newton star Darwin Barlow perhaps had one of the strongest bonds any player and coach could posses.

In an interview on Sunday, he shed a few tears when describing his final moments with Coach Johnston.

Barlow said "he told me that he loved me and he told me some things that I'll keep in my heart forever...that I'll cherish and that I made him proud."

Coach Johnston's influence has spread across the region, enticing coaches and friends from other schools to come and pay their respects.

Following the memorial, members of the Hemphill Hornets football team shared hugs and support with the Newton players. 

Coach Johnston may no longer be on the sidelines, but his name will continue to be atop the Newton coaching staff.

His son Drew has been named the next head football coach and athletic director.

Coach Johnston's family didn't wish to speak after the memorial.