‘A great big football family’: Murray Youth Football fundraising for coach who lost home in fire

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Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

MURRAY — The Murray Youth Football program is hosting a fundraiser Saturday to help a family that lost everything they own in a house fire, showing one of their coaches that he may be without a house but he’s not without community.

Coach Cori Johnson’s home in Murray caught fire on Saturday, and firefighters had to rescue two of his family’s three dogs. Johnson himself suffered second-degree burns from running into the home to look for his son and dogs.

A couple of days later, on Monday, Johnson’s football team gathered at Riverview Junior High for practice. Another coach had planned to take over and conduct practice that night.

Michelle Cross, vice president and treasurer of Murray Youth Football, explained that their program is more than just teaching kids football — it’s about building family and caring about each other.

“We literally are a great big football family,” she said. “We all help each other out.”

Cross described how Coach Cori is an example of that, often paying to sponsor kids in the program.

“I’ve literally seen him say, ‘That kid can’t afford to play,’ and just come up with money — and it’s out of his pocket,” Cross said.

That’s why Cross wasn’t surprised to hear that when Johnson’s house caught fire, he ran into the smoke and flames in search of his son and dogs, who were missing. Johnson inhaled smoke, and the fire burned his head, face and arm.

Everyone ended up being OK, but the house is a total loss.

“It was like instantly, we got to do something. We can’t … we have to do something,” Cross said.

As she began to organize a fundraiser for the upcoming weekend, at the very next football practice Monday, everyone was surprised to see Coach Cori show up. He was bandaged and burnt, but ready to keep coaching.

“To lose everything on Saturday and to show up for the kids on Monday … what more do you need to say about somebody as a human being?” Cross expressed.

Johnson said he wanted to let the kids know he’s OK. He said many of them live in his neighborhood and were there on the day of the fire, crying and concerned.

He explained that he was outside trying to burn off some weeds in a rock bed, when, unbeknownst to him, some weeds behind him caught fire. It spread from there to his home. Johnson tried to put the fire out, he said, and began looking for his 11-year-old son and dogs. Without a thought, he ran into the home to find them but was pushed out by the intense flames and heat.

Johnson described how firefighters later saved his dogs after finding them hunkered down under a bed in the basement. His son was outside and safe.

It was important to him to make it to practice, despite his injuries and what his family is going through.

“Relationships … are better than wood and roof and housing. Insurance will probably replace that, but you can’t replace this,” Johnson said, gesturing out behind him to the field filled with football kids.

Everyone on that field Monday was grateful Coach Cori and his family are OK, while being glad they have each other.

“I’m still kind of in shock,” Johnson said. “We appreciate the support, we appreciate the love, we appreciate the humanity. There’s a lot of love in the neighborhood.”

Murray Youth Football is hosting a fundraiser at Riverview Junior High/Riverview Park on Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. They’re asking for donations like non-perishable food, blankets, toiletries, gift cards, cash — anything to help Coach Cori, his wife, three kids and three dogs rebuild their lives.

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Lauren Steinbrecher

Lauren Steinbrecher is an Emmy award-winning reporter and multimedia journalist who joined KSL in December 2021.

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