November 20, 2010

A Winning Combination

By Katie Nugent
Special to GoHolyCross.com

Senior defensive backs Anthony DiMichele and Alex Johnson will be playing in the final game of their collegiate careers this weekend. The two starting safeties for the Crusaders have been key parts of the team's success over the last four years. A pair of three-year starters, the duo have also been roommates for the last four years, and have developed a great friendship both on and off the field.

DiMichele comes from a large family with five brothers and two sisters, where sports always played a big role. His older brother, Adam, played quarterback at Temple and in the Canadian Football League, and was also drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in baseball. Another one of his brothers, Alex, is currently a senior linebacker on the football team at Robert Morris, and is the team's leading tackler.

"It has been awesome to have my brothers playing football," said DiMichele. "After our games, I go to my phone and check to see if they won or played well. If I had a bad game, it's a pick-me-up to know that they played well."

When he first arrived at Holy Cross, DiMichele made an immediate impact as a freshman, appearing in 10 of the team's 11 games on special teams and making six tackles. He then earned a spot in the starting lineup at cornerback during his sophomore year, when he posted 66 tackles, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups.

Last season, DiMichele made the switch from cornerback to safety and was a key part of the Crusaders' success, as the team won the Patriot League title and advanced to the NCAA playoffs for the first time since 1983. He ranked second on the team with 82 total tackles, in addition to recording two interceptions, five pass breakups, five tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery. Following the conclusion of the 2009 campaign, DiMichele was named first team All-Patriot League, and earned third team All-America honors from the Sports Network.

Heading into his final season, DiMichele received another honor when he was selected as one of the team's captains. "It means a lot, knowing that my teammates voted on me to be a captain," said DiMichele. "I know that my peers look to me for leadership, and I've done my best to provide that all year."

For Johnson, he knew football was something he wanted to pursue in college way back when he was in middle school. "I remember watching the high school players finish their football careers, but I couldn't imagine going to school and not playing," said Johnson. When he was choosing a college, Holy Cross' balance between athletics and academics was the biggest selling point for the football and track star out of Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis, Ind.  

Johnson remembers the Bucknell game during his freshman year as one of his most memorable moments. Both starting safeties had been injured and only one, Daryl Brown, remained. "Coach Rodgers called for a safety and I just jumped out there," he recalled. Johnson ended that game with an interception, two tackles and a pass breakup.

Winning the Patriot League championship in 2009 against Lafayette is another memory that Johnson will never forget. "I've never been a part of something like that, and it's just another reason I feel so blessed to be here," said Johnson.

Johnson's explosive defensive performance was a key element to the Crusaders' success last season. In 2009, the defensive back earned second team All-Patriot League honors, starting all 12 games at free safety and ranking sixth on the team with 55 total tackles. He also totaled five pass breakups, an interception, and a forced fumble. Johnson has also been a key player for the Crusaders in the return game, and currently ranks eighth all-time at Holy Cross with a career kickoff return average of 21.6 yards.

"It's a love hate relationship," Johnson laughed, describing his relationship with coach Gilmore. "He's a tough guy, but he has pushed me to become a better football player. He has taught me to take advantage of the skills I have." In addition to coach Gilmore and his teammates, defensive coordinator Richard Rodgers has played a significant role in Johnson's success at Holy Cross. "Coach Rodgers is like a second father to me," said Johnson, who believes Rodgers and his father share many similar traits. Like Rodgers, Johnson's dad was his high school coach. "It's funny because all the things Coach Rodgers tells me now, my dad was telling me four years ago," said Johnson.

The political science major has a bright future ahead of him. "I haven't made any decisions yet, or ruled anything out," said Johnson, "I'm just trying to savor my last few moments in a Holy Cross uniform." He is considering a career in government after graduation, and also hopes to stay involved with football at some capacity.

With their collegiate careers now coming to a close, DiMichele and Johnson will look to go out on a high note against Bucknell this week.

"We want to be winners," said DiMichele. "That is why we came here, because Holy Cross is full of winners. For us to go out with a winning record in all four of our years here would be an awesome feeling."

This story originally appeared in the November 20 edition of the Holy Cross Game Day Program, for the contest between the Crusaders and Bucknell. To order a copy of the program, visit the online store.