Archdeacon: A Central State connection that goes back 8 years

WILBERFORCE – Although Saturday’s season opener for Central State at Ohio Stadium will be Montego Johnson’s college debut – and the first time in his life the freshman cornerback could play alongside his older brother, Malik, a junior cornerback for the Marauders – it will not be the first time the pair takes the field together at a CSU football game.

That happened eight years ago.

Malik was 13 and Montego was 10.

They were ball boys for the Morehouse College football team where their older brother, Monqavious, was a quarterback who, in four solid seasons with the Maroon Tigers, would throw and run for over 4,900 yards and 38 touchdowns.

Malik and Montego were handling their sideline duties on September 21, 2013, when Morehouse defeated CSU, 41-20, in the Chicago Football Classic at Soldier Field.

“Our brother was the star quarterback so everybody at Morehouse took us in as family,” Malik said. “We were on the field with them and in the locker room at all the games.”

“It was pretty cool,” said Montego.

Those ball boy days, Malik said, also gave him an introduction to the Historic Black University and College (HBCU) world: “There was the band, the students at the games, the excitement – I fell in love with HBCUs then.”

And that romance was renewed when Malik – who started his career at Malone University – visited CSU after the Canton school, in an effort to reduce debts, disbanded its football program following his freshman season there.

He only had played football his senior year at Cedar Grove High in DeKalb County, Ga., but got connected to Malone thanks to his high school coach, Miguel Patrick – once a three-sport star at Dayton Dunbar and then the architect of three state titles at Cedar Grove – who knew the Pioneers’ defensive backs coach.

The elimination of football shocked Malone players and they ended up scattered everywhere.

“Central State brought me in when they were playing Kentucky State in basketball and the band was playing and my mama was having fun with them and there was a good energy from the people,” he said. “I felt like I was at home.”

His mom, Minyatta Johnson, became a regular at CSU football games in 2019 and she said it will be the same this season.

For the Marauders’ game Saturday against long-time rival Kentucky State, she and her fiancé, Elvin Green, are making the 8 ½ hour trip from Decatur, Ga., to Columbus in a van with five other people.

“If my babies are there, I’m there,” she said.

‘Great dediciation and work ethic’

Her three sons all are unique in their own way, Minyatta said.

Since finishing his college career, Monqavious joined the U.S. Marine Corps, where he’s a supply officer and just began his first deployment three weeks ago.

“It’s secret,” Minyatta said. “All I know is that he’s on the water somewhere as we speak.”

Malik, she said, is her “outgoing” child: “Everyone loves Malik because of his personality.”

“And he’s really a gifted athlete,” said Green, noting how, in his first year of football, he became a starter at his high school powerhouse and now is beginning to make his mark at CSU.

In 2019, his first season with the Marauders, he ran back an interception for a 100-yard touchdown against Edward Waters University, had two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

And Montego, himself a talented athlete, is quiet and just smiles a lot Minyatta said with a laugh: “In elementary school he smiled. In junior high he smiled. Everybody called him Smiley.”

“He eats a lot and smiles,” Malik added teasingly, “Everybody says, ‘He’s nothin’ like you. You talk too much and he don’t say a thing.’”

Montego and Malik are vying for the opposite cornerback positons and Monday after practice head coach Bobby Rome said both will play a lot this season.

While she hopes her sons have productive seasons, Minyatta said she mostly wants them to get a good education to prepare them for life.

Although their mom and dad divorced when he was a senior in high school, Malik said: “Our parents raised us right.”

Minyatta and Elvin got engaged in mid-July and Elvin said he’s seen firsthand her imprint on her sons:

“They have great dedication and a strong work ethic. It’s in their DNA. They get that from their mom. They’re just well-mannered kids who put their best foot forward in everything they do.”

He thinks that will carry on for them through CSU and after: “You just want to continue to see them be stand up guys, stand up men, and be productive citizens. Hopefully they carry their Central State experiences and those they got from home – from their mom – along with them later in life. You want them to be great representatives, not just of their last name and their family, but for everyone who comes in contact with them.”

Those lessons are especially important in today’s world when heartbreak can loom right around the corner.

Malik knows and he pointed to his left arm, where he has “Fareed” tattooed on the biceps.

“It means unique in Arabic,” he said

It’s in honor of his former teammate and friend, Trevon Richardson: “Fareed was his middle name and he certainly was unique.”

The troubling word there is “was.”

Four days after their graduation from Cedar Grove High in May of 2018, Richardson – a three-sport star headed to Valdosta State on a football scholarship – was gunned down by another 18 year old as he stood in front of an apartment. His parents said when he was found, his graduation money was missing.

“I had to get his name tatted on,” Malik said. “It always reminds me of him. He was my friend and he was like a big brother to Montego.

“He’s living through us now.”

‘A new outlook’

Central State had its first practice on McPherson Stadium’s new $1 million synthetic turf field a week ago today.

After playing on a potholed, 100-yard expanse for years – a mud bog when it rained, rock hard when it didn’t and always a threat to ankles and knees – the Marauders see their new field as, in Rome’s words, “heaven on earth.”

“I played in mud bowls out here my first year,” Malik said as he stood on the field following Monday’s practice. “This is lovely. Our first practice here, I made snow angels on the Marauder (logo) in the middle of the field.”

Minyatta added: “The new turf will be a better experience this year…and a cleaner one.”

Along with new turf, the Marauders have more scholarship money available, new uniforms, new coaches, a roster filled with new players – many recruited from Ohio’s high schools, but also several transfers of note – and, most importantly, Malik said, “a new outlook.”

Central State’s 2020 season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The year before the Marauders went 3-7. They have not had a winning season since the program was restarted in 2005 after an eight-year hiatus that took them far away from the days in the early 1990s when they won three NAIA national championships.

Malik believes that’s all about to change:

“We can turn it around and get back to the days when we were national champions. In the spring of 2020 – right after Coach Rome was hired—I felt a whole energy shift here. There’s a new attitude and a real willingness to work. And I think it will show.”

The Marauders get a big-stage debut Saturday when they open at the Horseshoe in the HBCU Classic For Columbus. A weekend ahead of most other openers, theirs is one of the few college games being played that day and the Marauders know a lot of eyes will be on them.

“You’ll see we have a lot of new talent,” Malik said.

The biggest battle in preseason camp is between four new quarterback candidates, three college transfers and freshman Stephon Thomas from Springfield.

“From the top player to the very last guy on the roster, everybody wants to be here,” Malik said. “Right now, Central State is the place to be.”

Then again, he and his brother were on the field with the Marauders eight years ago.

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