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January 11, 2011

Johnson sought advice from Dupree

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SAN ANTONIO - Almost all of the players in this year's U.S. Army All-American Bowl were first introduced to legendary high school running back Marcus Dupree this fall in an ESPN documentary series.

C.J. Johnson didn't need to watch it. He grew up with the story.

C.J. Johnson is part of a new era of Mississippi high school football, which is starting to make its mark on the national scene.

Batesville (Miss.) South Panola was named national champion by RivalsHigh. It was one of four teams in the state in the final Top 100. And Johnson was one of three Mississippi players who participated in Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl - joining South Panola's Nickolas Brassell and Madison Central's Tobias Singleton.

The three were coached by Lance Pogue of South Panola. Pogue made sure the players understood the magnitude of the moment.

"One day after practice, coach Pogue pulled us aside and reminded us that we're also represented Mississippi," Johnson said. "Mississippi is a small state, but it's on the rise."

Pogue is happy the state got a chance for notoriety.

"I told the guys to show what they can do," he said. "It was really a pride thing for Mississippi football."

So while many likely saw the show entitled, 'The Best That Never Was,' as a reminder of how quickly a devastating injury and putting your faith in friends can abruptly end a seemingly fairy-tale career, Johnson knows the unfortunate truth first hand.

"In a lot of ways it was a sad story and showed what can happen when you make a few mistakes," he said. "It's a shame that it can happen to such a kind-hearted person. It was a lesson in learning who you can trust."

Johnson hails from the same town as Dupree - Philadelphia, Miss. - and considers him a friend. And he says many in the town didn't bother to watch the widely acclaimed "30 for 30" show which featured numerous hard-to-believe TD runs on grainy game film.

"Everybody knew about it, but a lot of people didn't want to watch it," he said.

Dupree's story is a painful reminder of how precarious life as a star running back can be.

During his senior year in 1981 in which he ran for nearly 3,000 yards, Dupree was seen as a healer of the town. His success on the field was viewed as a binding event in a town still reeling from racial divide symbolized by the murders of three civil rights workers in 1964.

Now Dupree is seen as a case study of what can go wrong to a high school hot shot.

From his decision to go to Oklahoma (where he burst onto the national scene his freshman season) to his decision to transfer to Southern Miss to his decision to turn pro soon after, Dupree was an example of a young athlete being led (or possibly misled) by others.

Even worse, soon after a devastating knee injury ended his short-lived pro career, Dupree discovered much of the money he entrusted to some advisors was gone, too.

Johnson, a four-star linebacker who is still deciding between Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and LSU, is determined to do things differently.

"Every person I talk to, I have to figure out if I can trust them," he said. "I tell them I don't want to have what happened to Marcus to happen to me."

Johnson, ranked as the No. 6 inside linebacker in the country and No. 138 overall recruit, said he has sought out advice from Dupree.

"I've gotten to be really good friends with Marcus since I've been being recruited," he said. "I've talked to him a lot. He just tells me to remain humble and be a good person and do what's best for me."

MORE: Denver (Colo.) Mullen quarterback: No one can compete with us in state

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