He was projected to be one of the top 20 football players in the class of 2013 in Illinois, a swift and athletic running backwide receiver with game-breaking potential, what every college coach and recruiting analyst perceives as a difference-maker.
But Kendall Johnson won't be playing football at Glenbard West next fall. He has been dropped from the squad by coach Chad Hetlet for violating training rules. "It's a sad case," Hetlet said, not wishing to go into details.
Sad indeed. How good was Johnson?
"Definitely a Division I player as a wide receiver or running back," Hetlet said. "He was one of the most explosive kids I've seen. His balance and explosive speed made him special."
Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network said Johnson "is a definite Division I player. He was a top 25 player, maybe top 10 in a very good year for talent in the Chicago area."
As a sophomore, Johnson rushed for 900 yards. He carried 12 times for 183 yards and three touchdowns against Downers Grove North. The 6-foot-1, 186-pounder with 4.49 speed attracted early interest from Ohio State and Iowa. He has a 3.4 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale. He had everything going for him.
But Johnson's troubles began even before the 2011 season started. He was suspended for the first three games because of a disciplinary violation and never seemed to get untracked. He appealed his last transgression but the school's athletic board rejected it.
"I regret the whole thing," the 17-year-old said. "If I had a chance to go back in time, I would go back and change it. But it happened and I have no power to go back. It is rough on me and rough on my family and rough on my teammates, too. We can't play our senior year together. But it's something that is done and I'm trying to improve from it."
Based on his potential, Johnson was invited by Lemming to attend the junior combine at the U.S. Marines' Semper Fidelis All-American Game in Phoenix last January. He impressed onlookers.
"He has big-time ability," Lemming said. "He can run and catch. He has good vision. He ranked in a group of the elite players as a sophomore. But now he has blown a chance at a free education and a good football career."
Lemming pointed out that Johnson is the latest in a line of gifted players produced in the city and suburbs who possessed great potential to play in college and the NFL but didn't make it. The list includes Phillip Macklin of Proviso East, Hubert "Boo Boo" Thompson of Proviso West and Mike Burden of Palatine.
"No area in the country has had so many disciplinary problems with great players," Lemming said. "They had great potential but their careers were derailed by off-the-field issues."
But Johnson remains determined to play football at the major college level, specifically in the Big Ten. "I am looking for exposure and I want to build my reputation back up," he said.
"My dad and I are trying to figure out how to play football. If not, I will be in school for academics and I will try to make my way to college and work my way up. I know people know what I am capable of doing. My dad and I aren't sure what level I can play. And we're not sure if a college coach will take me after this situation.
"It was different things that happened over a period of four years. But one thing that put me in this situation (dismissed from the team) was 100 percent not my fault. I appealed but the school board wouldn't let me come back."
Johnson has received letters from Indiana and Georgia Tech. North Central College in Naperville and Dubuque also have expressed interest. Johnson has talked to North Central coach John Thorne, who built a great program at Wheaton Warrenville South High School in the 1990s, has visited the campus and attended a game. He likes what he has seen.
"Wherever I go, the No. 1 thing is to play football," Johnson said. "This summer I plan to keep in shape and call college coaches and see if I can visit their campus. I want people to know that I'm doing the right things. I probably will go to a junior college for one year and work my way up."