The sunlight glints off the purple helmets of Martin Luther King High School’s football players as they line up, two by two, alongside the bleachers at Benjamin L. Johnston Memorial Field.
It’s Friday – game day – and the Cougars, a promising team from Northwest Philadelphia, need a win to keep alive their chances of competing for a public league title after dropping two of its first three.
Some players shout as the squad streams onto the cropped grass of their home field near East Mount Airy to face Dobbins Technical High School.
Not number 74, Dontae Angus.
The standout offensive tackle, one of the state’s top prospects, quietly jogs towards King’s bench before watching the coin toss at midfield.
“That hype stuff is not me,” says Angus. “I can play football with a smile on my face.”
A standout figure
Angus, 18, is not your average high-school football player.
At 6-feet 6-inches tall, and weighing an estimated 330 pounds, he already looks like he plays on Saturdays and could, one day, play on Sundays, too.
The Northeast Philadelphia teen’s unmistakable size is certainly eye-catching. But it’s his atypical speed and agility that has coaches from some of the country’s most elite collegiate programs drooling.
In fact, his coaches at MLK think they may have a future NFL draft pick in their midst.
“He moves like a tight end and catches the ball well,” says William McLeod, one of King’s defensive-line coaches. “Most guys that size are either falling over themselves or they can’t go right over left.”
If all goes well, Angus – who also plays defensive tackle – will suit up next year for the University of Florida Gators, a Division I powerhouse.
He verbally committed to his dream school over the summer. It’s where defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, a George Washington High School product, went before being drafted in April by the Minnesota Vikings.
Angus, who also drew attention from the University of Arizona, Missouri and Michigan State, badly wants to follow in those $8.1-million footsteps.
Despite his superstar trajectory, though, the spotlight-averse Angus is not MLK’s captain or even considered a team leader yet.
“I’m not that type”
Unlike most teammates, Angus didn’t play much organized football before high school.
He briefly played on a Pop Warner team when he was 12. The coach, says Angus, didn’t play him a lot because he didn’t know much football technique. That changed when he got to Olney High School.
“That’s when it started getting real,” says Angus.
Angus’ relatively short time in the sport may account for him not yet having all the leadership qualities often exhibited by star players in their senior years.
It could also be argued that Angus hasn’t played on any one team long enough to develop them.
MLK is Angus’ third school in four years.
“He still hasn’t gripped the concept of team,” says McLeod.
Angus left Olney after a fellow student pulled a gun on him and a friend after school.
His mother, scared for her son’s safety, took him out a day after the incident, which Angus says resulted in a restraining order being placed on the gunman.
Halfway through his sophomore year, Angus landed at Germantown High School. By the end of his junior year, he was once again looking for a new team.
As you may have heard, GHS was shuttered in June. King, located in nearby West Oak Lane, was one of the transfer-destination choices the district gave Germantown students.
Unsure about moving
The option made Angus nervous.
The two neighborhoods have historically clashed with one another. Angus feared that violence would flare up in the hallways and somehow jeopardize his chances of playing college ball.
Ultimately, though, loyalty to his GHS teammates who were King-bound, won out.
“I got attached to them, so I’m with them,” says Angus.
Angus, however, bucks a lot of football player stereotypes.
The mild-mannered teen follows the Philadelphia Eagles, but he’s not an NFL nut.
That’s not to say Angus doesn’t enjoy football. He pictures himself playing in the NFL one day.
“It’s a release,” he says when asked what he loves about sport. “You can kill somebody and not get in trouble for it.”
It’s just not the only thing he cares about.
More than football
Ask Angus about his hobbies and you’ll get a pair of unexpected answers: Riding bikes and drawing anime characters.
“Dontae has always been himself,” says Jon Hoffmeier, another MLK defensive line coach. “He always sticks to himself and I think he holds onto that. He is Dontae and he’s going to be Dontae.”
Hoffmeier drives Angus home after practices and games from time to time. They rarely talk about football. Music is more likely of a topic.
One of Angus’ favorite bands, Asking Alexandria, plays “Screamo,” an appropriately named rock-genre.
Slowly, but surely, though, Angus is developing into a complete player.
Both of his families – biological and football – have pushed hard to help make him the leader they know he can and should be on and off the gridiron.
“It’s his responsibility to be the best player on the team because of how much he has to offer and brings to the table physically,” says MLK’s head coach Ed Dunn. “We have very high expectations of him leading us on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.”
No matter where Angus plays next fall, he won’t have to be an immediate leader. That’s a job for the upperclassmen.
But the coaches at MLK still want him to – as offensive line coach Mike Barbarito puts it – “leave his imprint on this team.”
Teammates urging him to urge them on
So do Angus’ teammates. And they’ve told him as much.
Senior Delane Hart, the team’s star wide receiver, says Angus’ attitude can set the tone for the whole team and the season.
“If he comes out B.S., then the team is going to B.S.,” he says in between reps at a recent practice. “If he comes out ready to work, get on everybody’s case, then everybody is going to be working. And, I don’t think there’s anyone that can mess with us if he comes out and works and does what he’s supposed to do.”
Dunn adds that Angus also needs to lead by showing up to school on-time, going to class and generally “being a good citizen”
“The whole nine,” he says.
Infractions and corrections
Academics haven’t always been Angus’ favorite pursuit or his strength.
His mother, Jounieta Williams, says his grades are “getting there” after she presented her son with a stark choice.
“If you can’t do both [football and school], then you have to let football go,” recounts Williams.
As mid-season approaches, Angus appears to be getting the message.
He’s doesn’t pay much attention to pressure, but he doesn’t want to be a bad teammate, or seem disingenuous.
During a recent practice, Angus apologized to his team for being late to a couple practices and skipping a couple more.
“I told them I was always going to do good, but then I ended up falling off,” he says of that unprompted address. “I wasn’t being a man of my word.”
Angus may never become a vocal leader or the player leading the pack onto the field.
However, behind the scenes, in the seconds between snaps and on the sidelines, he’s becoming his own brand of leader, quietly guiding others where he can and trying to consistently go full-throttle at practice and in games.
“I got to be a role model,” says Angus.
Things are looking up for the team of late, too. After starting 0-2, they’ve won back-to-back games and face Lincoln High on Friday night for a chance to creep back into the playoff picture.