There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2016-17 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players
This week: Gopher freshmen Alexis Hart (volleyball) and Tyler Johnson (football)
It’s becoming commonplace that college freshmen athletes arrive on campus, the earlier the better, in order to get acquainted with new teammates and new surroundings in beginning their collegiate academic and athletic life. As a result, Alexis Hart and Tyler Johnson both have made earlier-than-expected contributions on their respective Gopher teams this season.
Alexis Hart would rather kill than run
A three-sport player in high school, including all-metro as a long jumper in track as well as state champ in both the long jump and triple jump as a sophomore, Alexis Hart says she finally settled on volleyball after her sophomore year at Truman High School in Independence, Missouri.
“I hate running,” admitted the six-foot Minnesota outside hitter.
Hart as a junior was named Kansas City’s best volleyball player, the first time an 11th grader received such an honor. She finished her high school career as a two-time first team all-state, and all-city and all-conference all four years. Hart also was an American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) first team All-American and made the USA Youth National team training roster.
Between high school and club play, Hart amassed nearly 1,300 career kills.
“This is a team sport. I don’t have to do it myself,” explained Hart, who is one of five Gopher volleyball players this season to receive individual honors, including three times as Big Ten Freshman of the Week, and was named to the school’s all-tournament team after a 31-kill weekend performance against three teams in a home tournament in September.
Once on campus, Hart’s teammates advised her to just be herself. “I didn’t have the mindset of saying, ‘I’m going to start,’” recalls the freshman. “I had the mindset of, ‘I will do my best to help the team.’ I would see what happens.”
Summertime spent on campus proved invaluable, “Summer school helped me with academics,” continued Hart, who is interested in studying business. “We had practices with each other — the seniors really stepped in and helped the freshmen. It was a great time this summer as we connected as a team.”
Her biggest asset that Hart brings to the top-five-ranked Gophers is “high energy,” surmised Hart. That is something she proudly claimed she inherited from her biggest fan, her mother, who once played college basketball. “My mom tries to make it to every home game,” said Hart. “She’s amazing — she’ll drive six and a half hours.”
Tyler Johnson represents for Mpls
Tyler Johnson is the only Minneapolis City Conference player on Minnesota’s football roster this season. As quarterback last fall he led North High to the state championship runners-up.
“Knowing that I got a lot of support” from family and friends playing just a few miles from his home neighborhood, Johnson told the MSR he hopes his success will help create a recruiting pathway for more city players. “I can show what the city’s got,” he pointed out.
The 6’-2” Johnson was switched to wide receiver. Being on campus this summer greatly helped his transition. “I really had to study the playbook and know all the positions on the field. It was a big adjustment for me.
“They [his teammates] taught me at captains’ practice the techniques I’d need at wide receiver,” he continued. “I came in each day and got better and better.”
Johnson caught three passes, all for first down, in his collegiate debut against Oregon State, and he caught his first college touchdown pass against Indiana State.
“School is looking pretty good,” he said, as yet undecided on a major. “I feel confident, but also humble.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.