2012 BOYS TENNIS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: JOHNSON’S PATH: FOURTH STATE TITLE, THEN SECOND CITY

by C. Jemal Horton

Charlotte Catholic senior Kyle Johnson posted a 20-0 record this season. C. Jemal Horton/SCW photo

Thirty minutes before the Class 3A boys state individual tennis championship match on May 12, Charlotte Catholic senior Kyle Johnson accidentally ran into his opponent, Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons’ Matt Daley.

The players had faced off many times through the years, with Johnson winning most of the matchups. Daley, who Johnson said is an affable young man, had had enough, though.

“(Daley) said, ‘Nothing against you, but I’m just trying to get my first state championship, so if I end up doing anything (bad), I’m sorry,’” Johnson recalled. “I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’re going to compete for it.’”

That’s what Johnson said aloud.

Daley’s words had pumped up Johnson – not that he needed it, since he was pursuing his record fourth consecutive state title. But as he walked away, Johnson inwardly uttered some different words to his foe.

“I said, ‘I’m going to mess you up right now. I’m going to get my game face on,’” Johnson said.

Johnson then defeated Daley 6-4, 6-3 to become the first boy to win four state tennis championships in a row.

Johnson wound up with a 20-0 record and became Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s Southern Mecklenburg Boys Tennis Player of the Year for the fourth consecutive season.

Johnson soon will take his talents to the Midwest, where he’s set to begin a career at Chicago’s DePaul University.

Johnson was wooed by Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Winthrop and Wofford. For a while, it appeared he was Virginia Tech-bound; his grandfather was a Virginia Tech professor for nearly two decades, and his father grew up in Blacksburg, Va., where the campus is located.

Then, in September 2010, he went to Chicago, also known as the Second City, for a cousin’s wedding.

“I fell in love with the city,” Johnson said. “I didn’t really know anything about the schools there. I just knew that after college, I wanted to move to Chicago to live.

“A while later, out of nowhere, the DePaul coach e-mailed me. He said, ‘I saw your rankings, and I want to see you play.’ I said, ‘Where’s your school located?’ He said, ‘We’re in Chicago.’ I said, ‘You’re at the top of my list already!’”

Johnson visited the DePaul campus last fall – even if it was a mere formality.

“DePaul was my first (scholarship) offer, and that’s the one I took,” Johnson said.

“I had to raise my SAT score, and I took the SAT two weeks after my official visit. A lot of schools were waiting for my scores, but I just made up my mind; I loved DePaul and Chicago so much that I just wanted to go there. I wanted to be in a big city. Nothing against the South, but I wanted to leave the South and be my own person up there.

“Honestly, it feels like I have more stuff to prove,” he added. “I’m never comfortable where I am, so I always want to do something more. I want to win the conference in college. When someone’s happy where they are, they’re not motivated. I always want to be motivated. The four titles reminded me that I’m still here, and I’m still motivated. But I’m not done.”

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