August 28, 2009

Dontae Johnson balances sports and leadership

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ENGLEWOOD, N.J. - Dontae Johnson doesn't keep a calendar or a daily planner with him, but with all the events he's involved with at the Pennington (N.J.) School, you would think he should.

Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound senior, is a captain on both the football and basketball teams. As a safety, he holds more than a dozen Division I scholarship offers in football and said he has narrowed his list to Stanford, NC State, Maryland, UConn and North Carolina.

He will also serve as a hall proctor for the second year in a row, and this year he opted to join the Peer Leadership Program. Oh, and he maintains a 3.7 grade point average, too.

"It definitely is kind of hard, but it keeps you active and it definitely keeps you aware of what's going on and the things you have to get done," Johnson said. "It's definitely a great experience to get ready for college."

Pennington is a private, coed school founded in 1838 by the United Methodist Church. The 54-acre campus is located 60 miles from New York City, 40 miles from Philadelphia and within eight miles of Princeton, N.J.

Johnson was named a captain of the school's football team as a junior - the first time a junior has received that honor in coach Jerry Eure's 16-year tenure.

"He's definitely a leader with the younger kids," Eure said. "They look up to him."

Johnson just returned from an unofficial visit to Stanford and says it went well. He maintains he has no leader and hopes to decide on a school "in a couple weeks."

His calm, composed demeanor translates naturally into non-athletic endeavors as well.

As part of the Peer Leadership Program, Johnson meets once a week with his fellow leaders and receives class credit. On Friday mornings he will council a group of 10-15 freshmen on topics such as drug and alcohol education.

"It's like a mentoring program," Johnson said. "We give them the ins and outs of high school and how to manage time."

And managing time is something Johnson knows about.

"I was blown away by that," Mary Fraser, the director of the school's library and a family friend, said of his decision to become a peer leader. "To take on that added responsibility and those challenges and really stretch yourself in leadership roles on campus that have nothing to do with sports is unusual. An athlete really stretches his goals in being something other than a jock."

Johnson will head out on a retreat with his fellow peer leaders from Sept. 2-4, missing a few days of football practice in the process.

Johnson volunteered last year to be a hall proctor, the equivalent of being a resident adviser.

"He's doing both of those [peer leadership and proctoring]," Fraser said. "That's just amazing to me.

"There's just no drama around him ever. Every time I leave a group of boys I just say, 'Dontae's in charge' because he's the most calm, cool, collected teenage male that I know."

Johnson knows what he wants, too.

"I just want to be a leader in the community," he said. "That's all, really."

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