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South Allegheny tailback Johnson on verge of stardom

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

DaVonte Johnson recalls being reminded during the past few years — with great frequency — that South Allegheny's football program was struggling.

Those memories provide motivation.

“I still remember people always coming up to me and asking why we were losing so much,” he said. “I used to hate that so much. I really had no response at the time.”

He does now.

“This team is different,” he said.

The Gladiators finally reached the postseason in 2012, their first trip to the WPIAL playoffs since 1986.

South Allegheny coach Pat Monroe doesn't believe the 2012 team was a one-hit wonder, and his starting tailback gives the veteran coach a particularly strong sense of confidence.

Johnson, a junior, shared time in a talented South Allegheny backfield last season.

This year, the ball is his.

“I think he's going to be a really good one,” Monroe said. “He's got this burst, this great speed. And he's got the vision too. He is just a very talented young man.”

The coach knows a great tailback when he sees one.

Monroe has coached as many great tailbacks as any WPIAL coach in recent memory. He oversaw star tailbacks like Shane Brooks, Windell Brown, Layton Dunn and Todd Harris — among many others — during his time coaching at Duquesne.

Johnson reminds Monroe of another decorated member in the pipeline of great Duquesne tailbacks.

“I hate to compare guys from different eras and different teams,” Monroe said, “but I would say that he has some similar attributes to that of (former Duquesne star) Maurice Demery. In particular, it's the vision that reminds me of him. DaVonte is one of those guys who always seems to be two steps ahead of everyone else out there.”

Johnson isn't especially big — he's listed at 5-foot-11, 170 pounds — but makes up for that with explosiveness. Also, Monroe insists his tailback is not a finesse runner.

“That's the thing,” Monroe said. “He is strong. Surprisingly strong, in fact. Very, very strong. I like how he takes a hit. He's taking hits in tackle drills, and he's coming out of the tackles. He just can do so many things, and he's so intelligent. So you've got toughness, and he's elusive, and he's also very intelligent. You can literally throw anything at him. He has a natural understanding of blocking schemes.”

Monroe believes his offense could be terrific this season, largely based on a number of speedy playmakers that could give opponents in Class AA fits.

Johnson will be featured more than anyone else.

“I think I'm going to get 15-20 touches per game,” Johnson said. “It's going to be an explosive offense this year, and I'm going to be a part of it.”

How many touches would be prefer?

“Well,” he said, “I'd be really happy with 25.”

He'll be even happier to help South Allegheny shed the image of a poor football program. Steps were taken in that regard last season, and he played a role as a complementary running back.

Now, he is being asked to carry the load.

And he's ready to remind all the doubters from previous seasons that this is a new Gladiators team.

“I always used to tell them my time was going to come,” he said. “Here it is.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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