Right on time

Johnny Cravey's journey to HPU

by Rebekah Sterling '18

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With less than a 5% chance to live, and even smaller odds of attending college, things haven’t always been easy for Johnny Cravey. 

Born with an illness that caused his lungs to fill with fluid, the infant struggled to breathe and began turning blue.

“The doctors said if I were to live, then I would be in a wheelchair because of the lack of oxygen to my brain,” Johnny said. 

And yet, after an emergency procedure, he survived – with 100% of his re-oxygenated blood given to him by donors.

Johnny went on to have a relatively normal childhood, growing up in Huntsville with his brother, Jake, and their sister, Katie (Cravey) Carpenter ’20, and playing the game he loved: baseball. 

But something still didn’t seem right. Johnny struggled in school, particularly with memorization. Doctors attributed his challenges to ADD or ADHD. Still, he managed to graduate from high school and planned to play baseball at a university in Texas. To receive learning accommodations for his classes, Johnny was told he would need an exact diagnosis from a neurologist. 

“We went to Houston and ran a bunch of tests – scans, memory, questions and reactions to everything that works the brain,” 

"I think I'm just proof that you don't have to have a timeline for your life."

Johnny said. “They concluded that I have frontal lobe brain damage from the lack of oxygen when I was a baby.” 

This means Johnny’s ability to listen to or read information and repeat it is equivalent to that of a first-grader. 

“‘If you go to college, you’ll probably fail,’” Johnny remembered the doctor telling him. “‘I suggest you just get a job, because you’re not made for college.’” 

Devastated but not dissuaded, Johnny applied to several more schools – and felt the sting of rejection more than once. A coach from another school recommended he visit Howard Payne University. 

Although Johnny was drawn to HPU, he said things just didn’t fall into place at that point. He decided to attend a community college, where he tried out for the baseball team. To his frustration, he was redshirted. While he would retain his eligibility, his skills would need to improve before he could join the team. 

Because of this, Johnny returned home and got a job. He worked at a grocery store while coaching junior high and high school baseball. Though he enjoyed coaching, he often struggled with comparison. 

“I would scroll through Facebook and see someone who got married or graduated with a master’s degree and I’d ask God, ‘Is this really what You want me to be doing?’” 

In the meantime, his sister began attending HPU. 

“Katie had great friendships that I didn’t have,” Johnny shared. “I thought, ‘Man, I really would love to have that kind of community.’” 

So, Johnny tried HPU again. After years of what seemed like setback after setback, the delay worked in his favor. Johnny received several scholarships as well as more financial aid through FAFSA, since he’d been working full time. 

At the end of his campus tour, Johnny met with the head baseball coach, Stephen Lynn ’04, M.Ed. ’17. Johnny didn’t expect much – he just wanted to participate any way he could. Since Johnny was a transfer student, Coach Lynn asked how many years of eligibility Johnny had left. He answered that he still had all four, because he had been redshirted in community college. Once again, something that had been a frustration worked out in his favor. 

“Coach Lynn said, ‘We need pitchers, and you really want to pitch. You’re on the team,’” Johnny recalled. “I ended up performing well enough for them to use me.” 

Since that day, Johnny has enjoyed learning and growing at HPU while majoring in youth ministry. He has plans to return to coaching and hopes to teach Bible classes. Johnny shared how one of his favorite professors, Dr. Rusty Wheelington, professor of Christian studies, became a huge encouragement in his life. 

“I’ll never forget the first test that I took with him,” Johnny said. “He told me to write what grade I expected to get on the test at the top of my paper. I’d never made above a C on a test, so I put a 70. It turned out that I made 100 on the test. He told me, ‘Don’t ever sell yourself short.’” 

In the spring of 2020 Johnny made the honor roll, which recognizes students who maintained between a 3.5 and 3.64 GPA, and in the spring of 2021 he was recognized as Outstanding Non-Traditional Student. 

“I’ve never made the honor roll, not even in elementary school,” said Johnny, now a senior. “I just feel like I’ve seen God’s favor, affirming that I made the right decision to come to Howard Payne. I never in my dreams would imagine doing anything like that.” 

Johnny reflected on how, despite life’s many curveballs, God has been directing his path all along. 

“I think I’m just proof that you don’t have to have a timeline for your life,” he said. “I used to be mad because my friends were doing these great things, but I’m also doing great things – just not on their timeline. God’s timing is always perfect. I’m learning to stop looking to my right or left, to stay in my lane and know that the lane that God has for me is perfect.” 

Photo #1: Johnny Cravey enjoyed playing baseball as a Yellow Jacket and was recently hired as student assistant coach. 

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