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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

SHINING STAR: Former Princeton High football star T.R. Johnson has something to shout about last Thursday as he holds the plaque he won after being named the East's Outstanding Lineman in the 2005 Sunshine Football Classic. Johnson's work in the middle of the defensive line helped the East all-stars to a 29-7 whipping of the West squad in a game played at the College of New Jersey. Johnson will be continuing his football career this fall at Kean College.
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Johnson Comes Up Big at Sunshine Classic, Earns Lineman Award In Helping East to Win

By Bill Alden

T.R. Johnson has suffered through some hard times over his four years at Princeton High, dealing with losing seasons, injury, weight problems, and the toughest blow of all, the death of his father earlier this year.

As he hit the field last Thursday night at the 2005 Sunshine Football Classic, Johnson was determined to end his high school football career on a high note.

Having been named as one of the captains of the East all-star team, Johnson went out on the muggy night and manhandled opponents from his nose guard position.

His dominance on the line helped spark the East to a 29-7 whipping of the West and earned Johnson the award as East's Outstanding Lineman.

Johnson was joined on the East squad by PHS teammates Vance Slocum and Vinny Giacalone. Wide receiver Slocum made a dazzling 30-yard catch to highlight his evening while quarterback Giacalone was unable to play due to a dislocated knee suffered in practice. The West squad featured Hun School stars Pat Gallagher and Wellington Talkpa, who came up with several tackles on defense in a losing cause.

Afterward, a beaming Johnson maintained his Sunshine game experience was something he savored right from the start.

"It seemed like from day one, the defense clicked," said the 5'10, 300-pound Johnson. "It was the same thing for the whole team. We all played with the same determination and motivation. I loved every second of practice. We played in the rain and we played in the heat."

Johnson acknowledged that the East coaches had instructed him to turn up the heat on the line. "The coaches told me that I had to take control of the line," recalled Johnson. "They told me to motivate them and not let them get down on themselves. I took that job and I did it. To win the lineman award was icing on the cake."

While Johnson basked in the glow of his individual achievement, he asserted that he wasn't just playing for himself. "My dad always taught me to not let down," said Johnson. "I did this game tonight for him and all my players. I play to have fun for my dad and for my teammates."

After grasping PHS head coach Steve Everette in a bear hug on the field, Johnson credited his coach with helping him persevere through the hard times.

"It's my coach and the motivation he gave me," declared Johnson as he reflected on his career which saw PHS go from 1-9 his sophomore season to 5-5 last fall.

"It's been a work in progress. We always worked hard we never let the losses get us down. It's also been my friends and my family. Everything around me has been positive. I have put all this negative stuff behind me. The future is positive."

Johnson's immediate future includes matriculating to Kean College where he will continue his football career. "I'm excited, I can't wait to go there," added Johnson. "Camp starts on August 22. I can't wait to put the pads on again."

In Johnson's view, his Sunshine experience will put him ahead of the curve when he arrives at camp. "It gives me a feeling of what college is going to be like, playing against good people every single day, " explained Johnson. "I was playing against the big guys and the playing with the fast guys here. I'm getting to know how fast the game is going to be at the next level."

After what he has gone through at PHS, Johnson will be entering college with a special wisdom.

"It's made me grow into a man," said Johnson, reflecting on his PHS football experience. "Coach has helped me understand what I have to be like in life. It's made me more mature."

As he ended his high school career last Thursday night, Johnson was certainly a man on the field.

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