Metea Valley's 2-sport standout Johnson excited about future at NIU
Metea Valley track and field coach Aaron Lewis has high praise for Jalen Johnson -- even though the Mustangs senior is going to play a different sport in college.
"Jalen is one of the hardest working and most dedicated athletes that I know of and have had the pleasure of working with over the years," Lewis said. "He is also a young man of high character and sincerity who works to outperform his competition but will always be there with a congratulatory handshake and nice comment after the contest is over. He is a consummate sportsman and represents the best of Metea Valley athletics."
Lewis said that after Johnson took third at last weekend's Class 3A boys track and field state meet in both the 110 and 300 hurdles.
And yet it's football where Johnson's future lies. He committed to Northern Illinois University in April after the Huskies and wide receivers coach Tony Sorrentino were the first school to offer him on Dec. 1.
"They were the first school to hit me up, the first to show interest," said Johnson, a standout wide receiver. "From then on I hit it off. I built a good relationship from the get-go. After the (high school) football season I gave it a month and realized it was the spot for me. I think I can get in there and contribute to what they are trying to build. I like what they have going on with their football program and I want to be part of it."
Johnson said he wants to major in something sports related, which is no surprise given his family background.
His grandfather Robert H. Johnson played football and ran track at Idaho. He coached track for 40 years at Wabash College and coached in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
Johnson's dad, Brian, was an All-American track athlete in the 400 hurdles at North Central College where he also ran relays and played football his junior and senior years. Jalen's mother Montrine played basketball for four years at Georgia State.
"They viewed sports as a guide to the person I am becoming," Jalen said. "To not give up and rely on your team no matter what the situation is. Sports has definitely been a large part of my life and I hope to stay around it as long as I can."
Johnson has three younger brothers, including Julian, a sophomore who does the high jump and plays football at Metea Valley. All his brothers are active in sports.
Jalen started playing sports on various Wheatland teams. He gave basketball and soccer a try but discovered his love was football and track -- similar to his father.
It was his dad who had him jumping over books, pizza boxes, rolls of paper towels, "different piles of things," Jalen said, at a young age. That got him started in the hurdles.
"Now it comes natural," Johnson said.
Johnson played on Metea's sophomore football team as a freshman. As a sophomore, Johnson was called up to the varsity in week two but broke his collarbone in week four. He put on 30 pounds of muscle while recovering, and this past year as a junior he caught 35 passes in only 5 games for 400 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Metea Valley plays in the DuPage Valley Conference, giving Johnson a chance to play against some of the best schools in the state like Naperville Central, DeKalb and Neuqua Valley. There's no easy games.
"When you are performing in front of good competition you are perceived as better and that's the way I like it," Johnson said. "It's great to go up against good competition week in and week out. Just like track I felt blessed to get a season."
As a senior, Johnson said his goal is to stay on the field all the time, also playing in the defensive backfield in addition to wide receiver. He's also looking forward to his final year in track and field.
At this year's state meet, Johnson hit a couple hurdles in the 100, and he set a new PR and broke his own school record in the 300.
"If I had a clean race (in the 100), I had a chance to win," Johnson said. "I had a great time. It gives me something to shoot for next year. My goal next year is the same as this year -- go for gold. I think I really have a shot at it. This time I'll have a full year of indoor and outdoor track which will really get me ready."
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