National Signing Day 2020

Resilience aids Mourning’s path to Arizona

By DENNIS SILVA II, Times Sports Editor
Posted 2/13/20

When D.J. Mourning II and his father, Derick, weren’t running stairs or doing pushups during late evening workouts at their house, they were playing the “Madden NFL” video game.

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National Signing Day 2020

Resilience aids Mourning’s path to Arizona

Posted

When D.J. Mourning II and his father, Derick, weren’t running stairs or doing pushups during late evening workouts at their house, they were playing the “Madden NFL” video game.

When Derick wasn’t busy training D.J., he was bonding with him.

“The fun thing about him is he’s a very competitive video game player,” Derick said. “‘Madden’ is his thing, and that’s something I can say he got from his daddy. I used to beat him when he was smaller. He’s gotten older and more advanced, and I put down the joystick now.”

It hasn’t all been fun and games, however, for D.J. Family and academic struggles plagued his high school career, eventually resulting in a transfer from Morton Ranch High to Paetow High after his junior season of football.

But it paid off in the nick of time. D.J., a physical, athletic pass-rushing linebacker, dominated on the field as he helped the Panthers to a program-best 8-3 season in 2019, averaging 6.8 tackles to go with 10 tackles for a loss, 15 quarterback hurries, seven sacks, three fumble recoveries, one interception and one fumble caused.

Under the no-nonsense guidance of Paetow head football coach B.J. Gotte and the teaching staff at the school, D.J. got right.

His rapid progression, more as a student than an athlete, landed him a full athletic scholarship to the University of Arizona, a dream scenario just months ago. Mourning signed his national letter of intent on National Signing Day on Feb. 5, becoming the first Paetow football player to sign to play at the NCAA Division I level.

Gotte, who was the offensive coordinator at Katy High from 2012-2016 before taking over Paetow in January 2017, said D.J. is “one of the best defensive players I’ve been around as a coach.”

“I thought I’d be going (junior college) or something like that,” D.J. said. “But I worked hard, got through and now I made it. I had people here at Paetow that cared about me and made sure I got on track. I got my grades right. Them doing that, it really opened up opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”

No one is prouder than Derick.

“It was a struggle,” Derick said. “Getting adjusted to high school and not having both parents there in the beginning … it made it tough. Once he got to Paetow, though, credit to the entire faculty and staff, from the coaches to the teachers and principal … everybody was on board with helping him out. Look at his transcript in the change from Morton Ranch to Paetow … it’s like night and day. I’m just glad he got it all done in time.”

Derick called the process a “rollercoaster.” For D.J., it’s “a dream come true.”

When he was 5 years old, D.J. had dreams of playing in the NFL. A quarterback then, he admired Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Vince Young.

As he got older, and grew, D.J., now standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 215 pounds, moved to defense and began studying current Seattle Seahawk and former Houston Texan linebacker Jadeveon Clowney ever since Clowney was a senior in high school.

“When I was young, people told me to keep at football and I could do something good with it,” D.J. said. “Whenever I was younger, I never knew the whole concept of college. My dream was to play in the NFL. I knew if I kept working, it’d get me somewhere.”

Derick was D.J.’s coach all the way up to junior high.

“A lot of people see what he does on the field, but he puts in the time,” Derick said. “That’s what’s most rewarding about this; a lot of people don’t see the work him and I did together. Late nights training in the house. I can just smile now. We know what’s going on. We know how it happened. We’re happy, man.”

Off the field, D.J. is respectful. People gravitate toward him. He is a natural leader. It’s a characteristic he embraced once he got to Paetow, when he was forced into an elder statesman’s role for a young program brimming with juniors and underclassmen.

“Coming here, and being around a younger team, I matured a lot from a leadership role,” D.J. said.

D.J. is unsure of what he will study at Arizona. He will have the opportunity to play early because the depth chart at his position has a lot of seniors.

The Wildcats run the same 3-4 defensive base that D.J. played in at Paetow and Morton Ranch. The idea is to get D.J. in space to make plays.

“They made him feel welcome and wanted, and that was the main thing,” Derick said. “You want to go where you’re wanted. That helped out in the decision. When the head coach (Kevin Sumlin) comes down here to have dinner with you, it means something.”

Arizona is “perfect,” D.J. said. He will start the Wildcats’ workout regimen soon. He plans to take summer classes to get a head start academically.

“I’ve been waiting on this moment for forever,” D.J. said.

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