Star Wars universe is second home to UT baseball coach

- Whether it's for his day job or his night hobby, Mark Johnson loves to put pieces together.  He's currently in his eighteenth season as coach of the University of Tampa baseball team.

"I'm a fan of how cerebral it is," he said. "Every pitch of the game means something."

Johnson is also in his seventh year with the 501st Legion, the world's largest Lucasfilm-backed Star Wars costume group.

He's the leader of the Tampa Bay Squad, which has around 140 members. They attend cons, parades, fundraisers, and charity events -- dressed in film-quality costumes.

He has three costumes and is currently spending time in his garage putting together the fourth, a stormtrooper from the latest Star Wars films.

"I love this part," he said. "I like being able to create and build things."

Johnson also has a working droid, the popular robot characters from the Star Wars universe. It took him nine months to build his Chopper, a character from the animated series Star Wars Rebels.

"Understanding the electronics and how all this would work was definitely a motivation and something I wanted to look for in a challenge to do," he said.

Johnson says he's a typical Star Wars kid, mesmerized by the original films since he was around 4 years old. While in costume, he can elicit the same reaction from today's children.

"I've had kids give you the face of 'Oh my gosh, a real-life action figure standing in front of me that I have at home,'" he said.

But adults and even grandparents can have the same reactions. The costume days are part of Johnson's busy schedule, especially during UT's baseball season.

He teaches full-time at Roland Park K-8 School. He's been there for six years and has taught for 13.

Of course, the question is -- how does he balance it all?

"Not a lot of sleep I guess," he said, laughing. "It's what I enjoy, so I don't mind spending my time doing it."

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