Senior return specialist and defensive back Dontrell Johnson almost wasn’t a Racer.
“I was this close to being kicked out of school because of grades at junior college,” Johnson said. “I got a second chance and I’ve had a 4.0 ever since.”
After transferring in 2010 from Garden City Community College in Garden City, Kan., Johnson has made the most of his second chance.
From Moultrie, Ga., Johnson came out of the preseason ranked nationally as a 2011 Top 10 FCS Special Teamers by The Sports Network, was 2011 Preseason All-OVC Return Specialist and 2011 Preseason All-OVC Defensive Back.
The awards are no surprise; Johnson earned the FCS Punt Return Average Champion in 2010 with an average 22.8 yards per return.
This season has been just as spectacular as Johnson averages nearly 16 yards per punt return and just under 40 return yards per contest.
When he’s not busy avoiding tackles on returns, he’s delivering them at breakneck speeds as he is tied for the team lead with eight pass deflections and is fifth on the team with 35 tackles.
While in high school, Johnson gained speed by running up steep hills with tractor tires tied to him. Now running a sub-4.4 second 40-yard dash, Johnson said he continues to improve his speed through sled-pulling drills, laterals and stretching.
“I think the fresher you are, the faster you are,” he said. “The more you stretch, the faster you’ll get.”
At 5-foot-11-inches and 180 pounds, Johnson is a carbon copy of one of his favorite NFL players, punt returner turned wide receiver Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers.
“I love his end zone dances,” he said. “If you get into the end zone, I feel like you should get to celebrate.”
If football isn’t an option after college, Johnson plans to use his integrated studies degree to pursue coaching and interior design.
“ “I love to draw in my free time,” he said. “I draw pretty well and I’d like to design a few things using interior design.”
However, Johnson believes he could make some noise in professional football once he graduates from Murray State.
“I feel like I have a chance if I can keep continuing to make plays and stay healthy,” he said.
Staying healthy has been difficult this season as Johnson missed the Mississippi Valley State game early in the season and injured his right arm at Homecoming against Eastern Illinois University on Oct. 15.
“We still don’t know what happened,” he said. “All I know is my thumb started to swell up on the sideline.”
Fortunately for him, the injury has not kept him out of games but has limited his ability to play more defensive snaps and see more time on special teams.
Johnson said this season has been extremely special as the team has fought through tough losses, exciting wins and new faces in the locker room.
“All the people that came in, we’re all just so close together,” he said. “No matter if there are newcomers, we’re gelling right now and it’s just a blast to play with all of them.”
Johnson will suit up for his last home game and Senior Day at 1 p.m. Saturday against the Austin Peay Governors.