Cobber Ink Tales - Jayce Johnson

Senior Jayce Johnson remembers his childhood friend Eli Johnson with a tattoo on his left forearm.
Senior Jayce Johnson remembers his childhood friend Eli Johnson with a tattoo on his left forearm.

Welcome to the newest Cobber Sports Information feature. Cobber Ink Tales is meant to highlight the individuality and personality behind Concordia student/athletes. Tattoos have become a way for people to provide permanent memories, motivation and remembrances of loved ones. This feature series will attempt to show another side of Cobber student/athletes – a side that family, fans and alumni rarely get a chance to see. We hope you enjoy this new feature.

Do you know a Cobber athlete, former Cobber athlete or Concordia professor or administrator that has a meaningful tattoo and would like to share the story behind it? Please contact CobberSID at so we can share the story.

Feature written by Concordia sports information student assistant David Youngs

MOORHEAD, Minn. ---Jayce Johnson scrolls through the array of pictures on his phone. The Cobber football and men’s track and field senior pauses and grins as he stops on a specific photo. It's a picture of him and his childhood best friend Eli Johnson. 

The two young boys are practically identical with their long, wavy blonde hair, sporting matching Moorhead Spud football jerseys. The picture depicts just one of the many vivid memories that Jayce and his self-proclaimed “brother from another mother” spent together growing up. 

This memory is extra special to Jayce. It was taken at one of the many athletic camps that him and Eli attended together as friends growing up. 

“At camps we were inseparable. If we got split up into different groups, we would purposely try and rearrange so we could be in the same group and work on the same position,” Johnson said. 

What sticks out most about the snapshot are the warm smiles that glisten across the face of both boys, filled with joy.  

It’s that smile that Jayce and so many others miss every day from Eli. 

It's been over two years since Eli Johnson passed away. The Cobber baseball player was one of the most beloved figures on Concordia’s campus, known for his joyful personality and contagious smile. 

“The biggest thing with Eli was that you could just be having a terrible day, down in the dumps, and that kid would just smile and completely light up your day,” Jayce said. “He wouldn’t even have to say anything, He could change your mood with a smile.” 

After Eli’s passing, Jayce wanted a way to honor and remember his best friend, something to symbolize the impact the Eli had on him and many others.

Following months of thought and contemplation Jayce had an idea; a tattoo to honor Eli and the unbreakable bond that the two shared. 

More than just Ink
Jayce Johnson is no stranger to tattoos. The 2-sport senior got his first tattoo when he was 16 as a birthday gift. Inspired by his mother, he got his confirmation verse tattooed on his chest. 

Since then Johnson has gotten six tattoos, ranging from his confirmation verse on his chest to the Armory of God from Ephesians 6:11 that is inked on his left bicep. 

All his tattoos have a deep meaning behind them. Eli’s would be no different. 

“It took me a while to decide what I wanted, but finally things started to come piece by piece,” Johnson said. 

Roughly three months after Eli’s death, Jayce headed to 46 and 2 Tattoo in Fargo to get his newly thought-out tattoo inked on his left forearm. 

Details Behind the Design
At first glance the finely detailed tattoo on Jayce’s forearm appears as an intricate compass with a majestic bald eagle glaring off into the distance. But just as there are multiple aspects to the tattoo, there is a multitude of meanings beneath the ink on Johnson’s design. 

The compass that paints the bottom half of the tattoo is no ordinary sundial. It’s a “vegvisir” - a nordic compass that was given to Norse travelers before making a voyage. The “vegvisir” is a reminder that even those who are lost will find home.  

“It's kind of like a beacon to never lose faith in what you’re doing, you’ll find your way back,” Johnson said. 

That sense of home for Jayce always included Eli as the two were growing up. Jayce recalls him and Eli spending endless hours playing baseball, hockey and football together as they grew up. And while the two boys chose their separate sports for college, it was baseball that brought Eli and Jayce closest. 

“We were with each other in the school year (playing for the Spuds) and the entire summer playing for the Blues. We spent a ton of time together on bus rides and at the field,” Johnson said. 

When they weren’t on the playing field, the boys could often be found down by the river with the Erickson brothers (Alex and Brett) with a line in the water. And when the fish weren’t biting because of a rainstorm the boys would “practice their baserunning,” recording each other running and sliding through the mud. 

“I remember going home and we were like ‘our moms are going to be so pissed,’” Johnson laughed. 

Fly High Eli
The parameter of the “vegvisir” is hugged in a circular formation by Nordic Viking runes that spell out the phrase “Fly High Eli” three times. Johnson wanted to make sure that the phrase which was used across the community, and state, to remember Eli was a part of his tattoo. 

Following the third “Fly High Eli” there is an arrow at the northmost point of the circle pointing directly up at a majestic eagle. 

For Jayce the phrase “Fly High Eli” is more than just three words. It's something that he carries with him in his life. It’s what the eagle represents. 

“It (the arrow) points up to the eagle. That always sticks with me. I’ll find myself sitting around and I’ll see an eagle just flying around and I’ll instantly think of Eli. I wanted something that would resemble that memory so I went with the eagle,” Johnson said. “That's where it tied in with ‘Fly High Eli.’” 

Johnson plans on adding some more eagles above the current eagle, only these ones will be flying in a circular formation amidst a mountain range. 

Always Remembering
Jayce has learned to grieve with time, but some days are better than others. Days such as Eli’s birthday bring back pictures and thoughts of fond memories, but also sadness and pain. 

“It's easier as it goes but you never get over it.” Looking back at all of the good times and memories brings tears to my eyes,” Johnson said. 

Johnson recently had his tattoo touched up. When he looks down at the freshly refurbished ink on his forearm, he is reminded of the happiness that Eli brought to him and many others. The way that he was able to light up another person’s day. 

“When I look down at this (my tattoo) it reminds me that I’ve got an eye in the sky looking at me. It makes me think about how he would want me to act, Johnson said.” 

There’s no doubt that Jayce and Eli shared a beautiful friendship. The type that any kid would ever hope for growing up. For Jayce, the ink is a reminder of all the memories that the two shared together on bus rides, at the ballpark and everywhere in between. It's a way for him to honor his best friend and a way for him to keep Eli’s spirit close to him each day. 

“Some days you wake up and look back at him and it hurts and everything, but most of the time you gotta look back and look at what a great life he lived,” Johnson said. “I know that I’ll be able to play ball with him again later down the road.”

***Do you know a Cobber athlete, former Cobber athlete or Concordia professor or administrator that has a meaningful tattoo and would like to share the story behind it? Please contact CobberSID at so we can share the story.***