Johnson finds home at La Verne
March 20, 2014
When Dalton Johnson was 8 years old, he found his first love.
From his first practice on the football field to helping the Greenwave reach state to playing in the NCAA Division III ranks, the 2013 Fallon grad always knew that football was in his DNA.
"I think it was just the fact that I could hit hard and I wasn't really afraid of getting hit," Johnson said about his first encounter. "As I got older and the competition got more competitive, I just fell more and more in love with the game. I loved the brotherhood that was created every year. I don't think anything can take that away."
While with the Greenwave, Johnson ended his career as an accomplished multisport athlete.
After becoming an all-league and all-state linebacker in his senior season, Johnson turned his attention to the wrestling mat where he nearly won the state title after suffering a knee injury during the previous summer. Johnson concluded his Fallon career on the diamond where the Greenwave came one win shy of reaching state for the third consecutive year.
Johnson left an impression on the gridiron when he was named a starter during his junior season and helped changed Brooke Hill's defense.
"He was an instant playmaker and by the end of the season, he was one of the best defensive players in the league," Hill recalled.
Johnson, though, said his heart was more into football.
"Ultimately, the reason I pursued football in college was because there isn't a payout in wrestling. To wrestle you have to have a big heart for the sport," said Johnson, a kinesiology major. "For me, it wasn't really there. Baseball was my 'have fun' sport. I had so much fun playing baseball and just having fun playing a game I love so much."
Johnson played in three games in his first year at the University of La Verne, a 30-minute drive east of Los Angeles, where he registered one solo and one assisted tackle. The Leopards finished the season on a five-game losing streak after starting the year with three wins in their first four games. His solo tackle came in a 49-21 loss to Cal Lutheran and had one assisted tackle in a 41-27 win over Whittier, La Verne's third and final win of the season.
Hill said that while players try to reach the highest level in college at Division I, sometimes the smaller-school route is the better option.
"(Johnson) chose a level where he could play right away," Hill said. "Dalton could have pursued higher levels of football but I believe he made the right choice for him. The No. 1 thing we tell players is to get an education, but they have to find the right fit. Not everyone is a Division I athlete. Sometimes that is hard to hear for both the player and parent, but it is an important conversation to have with them."
Johnson pursued an opportunity at the University of Idaho but when that didn't work out, he took advantage of the recruiting website, NCSA, and noticed La Verne was interested.
He emailed the coach and received a phone call 10 minutes later asking for him to come down and visit. And now he's playing middle linebacker at the collegiate level.
"I learned that when there is an obstacle that there is a way that works to get over that obstacle and it's simply just hard work and dedication with some sacrifices," Johnson said about achieving his goal.
"I don't really like using this all the time but when I overcame my ACL tear, it was a huge success for me because of all the hard work and struggle I overcame and pushed through. That alone showed me how strong my mind really was."
Even with his success in Fallon, Johnson still felt he had something to prove by playing past high school.
"I think, most importantly, I had to prove it not only to my peers and parents but to myself," he said. "I most definitely had to prove Fallon that I could do it and to all the people that said I couldn't do it."