Wednesday October 4th, 2023 9:03AM

Gainesville police officers, pro football players latest to rally behind young Gainesville cancer patient

By B.J. Williams

A 6-year-old Gainesville boy who has been battling blood cancer for the last eight months got a surprise visit from two pro football players and some Gainesville police officers at his home Friday morning. 

Since May, Riley Johnson has been in treatment for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). His father, J.R. Johnson, says Riley began treatment the day he was diagnosed and has undergone treatment on an almost-weekly basis. 

"The day he was diagnosed, Molly [Riley's mother] and I were really upset - beside ourselves - and he crawled in my lap and said 'Dad, everything's gonna be okay,' Johnson said. "He showed an internal strength which strengthened Molly and I and we just take it day by day."

The ongoing treatment means Riley, who celebrated his 6th birthday on December 10, has lost all of his hair. That was part of the reason for the special visit.

Gainesville Police Lt. Andy Smith said he wanted to show solidarity with Riley by shaving his head, too. In fact, he even let Riley do the honors.

"He had pretty steady hands, so I'm not nicked up too bad," Smith laughed after his hair cut.

Riley had some help with the clippers from a couple of players familiar to Atlanta Falcons fans - Jerious Norwood and Chris Owens. Smith said he has recruited the pair more than once to help with surprises for children who are fighting disease or injury. In fact, he's been able to rally support from other teams in other states for similar activities. 

"It's just something that was laid upon me to do," Smith said, his voice breaking with emotion. 

Part of the surprise for Riley was his very own Atlanta Falcons helmet, which he promptly put on, posing for the cameras. In just two days, he'll get an even closer look at Atlanta's NFL team when he serves as the honorary captain for the team at the Georgia Dome. The Rally Foundation recently selected Riley to be part of those game-time festivities.

For Friday morning, though, Riley was happy to have the attention of Norwood and Owens, showing them his train set that he got for Christmas - and even tossing the football around in the front yard with them - just like a regular, healthy kid. 

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