D’Anta Johnson has gone from ballboy to superstar for the Dinwiddie County (VA) High School football team. Next fall, Johnson hopes to make the leap from prep standout to major college contributor at East Carolina.
The 6-foot-2, 275-pound defensive tackle made a verbal commitment to the Pirates on Halloween during a ceremony at Dinwiddie’s auditorium. Flanked by his family, Johnson gave a short speech before unzipping his jacket to reveal an ECU T-shirt. Family members followed by revealing identical ECU T-shirts and hats.
“Tae,’’ as Johnson is known to friends and family, chose East Carolina over offers from Central Florida, Coastal Carolina, Delaware, Delaware State, James Madison, Kent State, Liberty and Villanova.
ECU defensive line coach Jeff Hanson, who has been recruiting the Richmond-metro area for many years, played a big role in landing Johnson, according to Dinwiddie coach Billy Mills.
“We’ve always had a good relationship with Coach Hanson and he’s done a great job recruiting our kids,’’ Mills said. “He is always honest, and I appreciate that as a coach. But that being said, this was all D’Anta. When he and his parents visited (ECU) in the spring they really liked it. Of course, I encouraged him to make sure he visited all the schools who offered him and he did that. The only place he didn’t go was Central Florida, and nothing against them, it was just too far away from home.
“He’s a very intelligent kid. He knew where he wanted to go and pulled the trigger. East Carolina is getting a good one.’’
Mills has had a front-row seat to Johnson’s development. Johnson was a fixture around the Dinwiddie program long before he reached the high school. At age 11, Johnson served as ball boy for the 2013 Dinwiddie varsity squad that finished 15-0 and won the Virginia State 4-A championship.
But the Dinwiddie coaching staff was exposed to Johnson’s talents even earlier.
“We have a (youth) program that starts with six-year-olds,” Mills said. “We only have one county (high) school, so everybody plays in that youth league, and a lot of the coaches on my staff help out. Then he was our ball boy when he was 10 or 11 for our state championship team in 2013. So he’s been around our program and our coaches forever.”
Arriving at Dinwiddie High in the fall of 2016, Johnson spent his freshman year on the junior varsity before making an impressive debut on the varsity as both an offensive and defensive lineman. But it was on defense where he made 29 tackles and nine tackles for loss in just seven games that caught Mills’ attention.
“There are certain things about kids that are capable of playing at that (college) level that you just know after this (coaching) a long time,” Mills said. “When you see that fast twitch and explosion, we saw flashes of that with D’Anta. It was just a matter of him learning the Xs and Os of football. Once he did that, he flourished.”
Johnson emerged as one of the Richmond metro areas top defenders as a junior. Playing 12 games for an 11-2 team, Johnson collected 61 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and three sacks. The highlight of the season for Johnson occurred in the third game, a 27-20 win against Salem, when he made 11 tackles and had five tackles for loss.
Even bigger dominance was on display by Johnson this season through Dinwiddie’s first 10 games. He’s recorded 69 total tackles with a team-high 24 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. Six of those sacks came in a single game against Petersburg when he collected 10 total tackles in a 37-20 victory. Johnson recorded a season-high 12 tackles in a 27-24 loss against Prince George.
Mills noted a great example of what Johnson has been doing on defense this year occurred in a recent 63-0 win against Meadowbrook.
“They tried to double team him,” MIlls said. “But he split the double team and hit the kid (runner) three yards deep in the backfield. He hit him so hard he knocked his helmet off. He’s just done a lot of great stuff like that.”
Johnson is almost as accomplished on the wrestling mat as he is on the football field. He produced a 47-1 record in the 285-pound weight class, won the 4-B Regional title and finished third in the Class 4 state meet after losing a 3-2 decision in the semifinals.
If that wasn’t enough, Johnson also was an all-region selection in track where he competes in the shot and discus.
For all those exploits, Johnson was named Dinwiddie’s Male Athlete of the Year in 2018.
“He does everything,” MIlls said.
Johnson is the latest player to join East Carolina’s recruiting Class of 2020, bringing the total of prospects to 22. He is the fourth defensive lineman, joining tackle Xavier McIver from Cheraw, SC, tackle J’Vian McCray from Shallotte, NC, end Jason Romero from Laurinburg, NC, and junior college end Elijah Robinson who is playing at Louisburg College.