Tyler Johnson, a walk-on for the Gophers, defines hustle. While some football players may spend their free time on weekends playing video games, the college senior rolled paint on a Buffalo rambler on a recent Friday night.

Beyond football and his five-man house-painting business, Johnson, 25, also has a wife, a 6-year-old daughter, another child on the way, a house and an internship as the Fridley High School strength and weight-lifting coach.

Oh, yes -- and 15 academic credits.

His busy schedule kept Johnson from participating in summer camp drills, but he plans to rejoin the squad when school starts Tuesday. "I'm a little bit busy, but the coaches have all been so great and flexible," he says. Wife Danielle, also 25, works as a medical assistant and keeps their Fridley home "OCD impeccable," according to her husband, and always has energy for daughter Anika.

Tyler Johnson might have acquired drive and discipline after he was expelled from Park Center High School (for carrying a pocket knife) as a sophomore. It might be a by-product of two tours of duty in Iraq. Or it might be that, at 5-foot-7 -- second shortest on the University of Minnesota football team -- he has to work harder and prove more than his teammates, most of whom are on scholarship.

After Concordia Academy accepted him (he played football and graduated with honors in 2002), Johnson enlisted in the Marines, and it's the GI Bill that's getting him through college. As a walk-on, he has tuition issues; he'll have to take more credits in the spring -- both to get a math minor to supplement his kinesiology major and because his GI Bill-paid tuition runs out this year.

Danielle concedes that she, too, has always been an older, mostly domestic soul; never a fan of the bar scene.

"It seems like lots of people our age really live in the moment," she said. "They still are all aboard the party bus."

The Johnsons have known each other since the fourth grade at Palmer Lake Elementary School in Brooklyn Park, but they didn't start dating until after their junior year -- even though Tyler had by then transferred to Concordia. "I made fun of him," she says. "He had a mullet."

Because they're rarely at rest, they cherish nights with Anika -- and can't wait to give her a sibling.

"She's my ball of joy," Tyler Johnson says. "It doesn't matter how late I work, when I get home, she wants to play. We have a great relationship."

With characteristic maturity, they also tend and monitor their eight-year relationship: Both are children of divorce.

Because no matter how civil the estranged parents, "it's hard to go back and forth from house to house," Tyler said. "We don't want it for our kids -- so we really are conscious about not picking fights and taking issue.

"Because, really, it's not worth it. My grandmother's maxim is right: Mostly, it's all small stuff."

Kate McCarthy is a Minneapolis freelance writer.