Tejay Johnson knew he would get to race along a football field again, feeling the wind rush past him.
It would happen. Someday.
Johnson, a former three-sport star at Egg Harbor Township High School, loves to compete. But over the last year, the 19-year-old was confined to running on sidewalks and boardwalks.
No one kept score. No one cheered.
Johnson spent a year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia raising his grades and SAT score to become eligible to play collegiate football.
Now, he's back.
Johnson has spent the last few weeks running across the fields at Rutgers University, this time while wearing a jersey as a member of the Scarlet Knights.
"It just feels so good to be here," he said last week by telephone. "All I've wanted to do is play football. I'm happy to be back."
Preseason camp started last week for Rutgers. Johnson joined the team over the summer, taking two classes and participating in summer workouts.
Rutgers opens its season Sept. 1 at High Point Solutions Stadium - the new name of the Scarlet Knights' home field - against North Carolina Central at 7:30 p.m.
Johnson had been away from sports far too long for his liking. At Egg Harbor Township High School, he was a three-sport star and was named the 2009-10 Press Male Athlete of the Year.
He led the Eagles football team to the 2009 Cape-Atlantic League American Conference championship and the South Jersey Group IV championship game. He also started for the basketball team and, in the spring of 2010, won two individual South Jersey titles in track and field.
But for the last year, he could only study and work out. There was no team for him.
"It was really hard for him. He was devastated," said his mother, Trudy Johnson, who lives in Philadelphia. "But he is very resilient. He is very determined."
Johnson attended Fork Union for post-graduate work. He took several courses, most notably an SAT Prep class to help him get the score he needed to become eligible for NCAA Division I football. Johnson didn't play football at Fork Union but did work out with the team to stay in shape.
He raised his SAT score 90 points. He had needed to raise it by 50 to get past the NCAA Clearinghouse, but he didn't want to take any chances. He worked hard in the classroom - not the way he had approached it in high school.
"I was lazy in high school," Johnson said. "I'm disappointed in myself for that because everything that happened was my fault. I didn't have to be in that position if I did what I was supposed to do."
I•December 2009, Johnson announced that he would attend Rutgers. However, nine months later, the school confirmed he was acacemically ineligible and would attend a prep school instead.
Johnson never made an excuse for why he wound up at Fork Union. Instead, he took that as learning opportunity.
That time away helped Johnson in more than just the classroom. Egg Harbor Township football coach Tony DeRosa has stayed in contact with Johnson since his 2010 graduation. They spoke about practices and working out.
When Johnson came back from Fork Union and worked out at EHT, DeRosa immediately noticed physical changes.
"For a kid who has been a three-sport athlete, he didn't have a lot of time in the weight room," DeRosa said. "He never had time to be fully dedicated to the weight room. He learned to train the way he needs to."
Johnson is already fast. As a junior at EHT, he won the 100-meter dash at the 2009 Meet of Champions in 10.67 seconds. But he's added weight to his 6-foot-2 frame, having arrived at Rutgers at 186 pounds, eight more than his playing weight at EHT.
Rutgers has just three wide receivers returning who saw game action last year. There is an opportunity for someone to come in and get noticed.
"It doesn't mean that it's going to be all two backs, two receivers, one tight end," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "We have a lot of four-wide stuff, three-wide stuff, two-wide stuff and no-wide stuff. I (like) the diversity of moving around from personnel group to personnel group and utilizing the talent of your players."
Rutgers is young at its receiving corps with three freshmen, including Johnson, vying for playing time with another three returnees who didn't play last year, plus the three who got playing time in 2010.
"I think he realizes he is a true freshman," DeRosa said. "They have a lot of talent for him to get on the field. One thing he stated to me, he wants to play and thinks he can play right away. He's a competitor. He wants to compete."
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