ANDALUSIA -- The picture is as basic as any other kindergarten photograph, with the exception of one boy.
Conner's legs are crossed, and he proudly holds a piece of paper shaped like a football in both hands. His sign reads: "Go Nico #35."
Here in Andalusia, where accents are as sweet as the sauce at Larry's Bar-B-Que, Nico Johnson is a celebrity.
The Alabama sophomore linebacker made arguably the biggest play of his career Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium. His first-quarter interception in the end zone during a 31-6 romp over then-No. 7 Florida was credited with clogging the Gators' high-octane offense.
All of Andalusia (population roughly 9,000) buzzed about Johnson's big play, just as they had when he lit up Friday nights here for the Bulldogs.
Conner didn't see the play, and that's OK. He's a Nico Johnson fan for more than just football.
Back in Tuscaloosa, Johnson looks at the photo of Conner, smiles and explains their relationship. Just like Nico's mother, Conner has diabetes, and it hurts Johnson to see someone so young with the disease.
Nico's mother, Mamie, died in June at age 49 from complications related to diabetes, but not before she taught him the importance of living an honorable life.
"My mom told me to always give back no matter what," Johnson said. "I really couldn't understand what she was talking about, but she always said that. Every time I get a blessing, I feel like I have to give back."
When Johnson was high school sophomore, he saw his mother go toe-to-toe with her inner monster. It was 3 a.m. and she was in the middle of a diabetic episode, characterized by blood-sugar levels that are too high or too low.
"That was my first time witnessing something like that," he said. "It had me scared. I was on the verge of, 'Is she dead or alive?'"
Diabetes dogged Mamie for years, and despite her son's encouragement for her to gain control of her health, she simply co-existed with the disease.
Johnson learned what he could about insulin and blood sugar and hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, absorbing diabetes websites like playbooks. Now he uses that knowledge and his celebrity status to help educate and inspire.
"My mom didn't exercise a lot," he said. "That was a big, big thing. When I talk to kids that have diabetes already, I tell them they're old enough to understand. You have to exercise and eat right. You're not the same as a regular kid that can just go out and play. You have to do a little extra. I just want to pick their spirits up."
Johnson's sunny smile belies a solid inner strength that was shaped in part by a 42-year veteran of the Andalusia school system. Richard Robertson remembers the day he met Mamie, and her instructions for educating her son.
"I'm pretty sure he doesn't know about this," Robertson said of Nico. "She told me when Nico first got here and when Nico was a senior, 'You be as tough on him as you want to be. You know what it's going to take for him to make it.'"
What Robertson doesn't know is that Mamie often approached her son's other coaches and teachers, asking them to take a hard line with him. It's no wonder Johnson acclimated so well to Alabama.
"Coach Robertson can be just as intimidating as Coach (Nick) Saban," said John Jones, a local attorney and lifelong family friend of the Johnsons. "He is in your face, just like a Marine drill sergeant, and I played for him. He's hands-on. He knows what you can do and he wants you to do better."
Johnson's soft exterior is not simply a facade, but a true reflection of how he cares for others.
"I've seen Nico in high school pull up on kids," Jones said. "He could take them out and he just doesn't when they're in a defenseless position."
When Mamie died, older brother Michael worried how Nico would deal without her influence, especially since he was away from home. Some of those worries were assuaged when Saban and others affiliated with the UA football team came down to support Johnson at her funeral.
Michael moved the ceremony to a bigger church when he learned the Crimson Tide contingent was coming.
"Man, it still wasn't enough room," Michael said. "They said the church holds 900 and some people. The 900 obituaries that were made, every one was passed out. ...(Her death) was a shock to everybody."
Mamie lived long enough to see her son succeed on the field. She even attended the BCS national championship game in Pasadena, Calif., just five months before her death.
And when Johnson made his interception Saturday night against Florida, his brother jumped and cheered, thinking about how their mother would have stomped and cheered alongside him.
"When he made that play, that's all I could think about, her standing up yelling celebrating after the play," Michael said. "She would have been there. We would have had a chance to see Nico after the game, him hugging her. Her saying she's proud of him."