It took four NFL seasons for Dontae Johnson to play a game in his hometown. And play he did, as the Plainfield, N.J. native was on the field for nearly every snap throughout last Sunday’s Eagles and 49ers matchup.
Johnson noted that it’s always been his dream to compete at Lincoln Financial Field, and stated, “I just never thought it would be for an opposing team.”
Johnson, a lifelong Eagles fan, fluctuated between being a starter and a reserve for three seasons. In his fourth year, he’s been a mainstay in the 49ers defensive backfield.
“Experience is the best teacher,” Johnson said. “By being out on the field it’s allowed me to get more confident.”
Johnson’s confidence is evident. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder ranks fourth on the 49ers in tackles with 38, and second in total team snaps with 574.
As Johnson continues to fill the stat sheet, opposing wide receivers are taking notice.
“He’s got to keep working hard,” Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey said. “He’s a long-armed, physical guy. He’s going to be a great player.”
What’s arguably more impressive than Johnson’s standout season is how he carries himself off the field.
Johnson, a Pennington Prep alumni, attributes aspects of his success to his high school roots.
“Going to Pennington helped me a lot,” Johnson stated. “Coach Jerry Eure (aka Chief) taught me a lot at a young age.”
Johnson and the longtime Pennington coach still keep in contact.
“I see him on Facetime through Chandler Fraser-Pauls” (Assistant Director of Athletics at Pennington, and longtime friend of Johnson’s).
“All Chief ever says is, ‘raw meat,’” Johnson said.
“Raw Meat,” Eure explains, is a mantra he’s instilled within Johnson for years.
“It means to stay hungry,” Eure said. “You got animals that eat raw meat because they are hungry…Sometimes I will literally just text him ‘raw meat.’”
“He was telling me that when I was at Pennington,” Johnson says. “And he still tells me that to this day.”
Despite success at the highest level, Eure sees little transformation in Johnson’s overall character. “He is not the type of kid to change once he makes it big … He doesn’t forget where he comes from,” Eure says.
Eure understood how special Johnson was long before his NFL career began.
“He’s one of the finest kids that has come through Pennington,” Eure explained. “We knew when he left Pennington he was going to be successful no matter what he chose to do.”