Playing high school football in Texas wasn’t the most intense part of Justin Strong’s sophomore year.
That distinction goes to the daily workouts with his brother, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Victor Butler.
“I would work out at school with the football team and then come home and do my brother’s workout with him,” Strong said. “It was hard, but it has stuck with me. I know what it’s like to work harder now.”
Strong returned to his native California prior to the 2011 season after one year in the Dallas suburb of Coppell and will begin his second season at Summit High School as one of the most feared safeties in the area.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior helped lead Summit to the school’s first CIF championship last season, earning all-CIF honors in the process, but unlike last season he is playing a lead role this year, not a supporting one.
Of course, he will have plenty of familiar cast members as one of eight returning starters to a defense that had a school-record six shutouts last season. After playing some linebacker last year in addition to free safety, Strong will have a running start on every play this season as an exclusive member of the secondary.
“In practice we have to tell him to tone it down because he’s so violent,” Summit head coach Cesar Villalobos said. “We’re afraid he’s going to hurt one of our players, or himself. He just loves contact.”
Strong has four scholarship offers, but enters his senior season undecided between Oregon State, his brother’s alma mater, Nevada, San Diego State and Wyoming. Some schools are interested in him as a running back, a position at which he could be the primary option for the SkyHawks after Summit graduated its two leading rushers from a season ago. The plan is to increase Strong’s carries as the season progresses in order for him to peak at playoff time.
No matter the number of carries, playing both ways doesn’t faze Strong. Not after his experience in Texas, which by design produced the results his parents were looking for.
“My parents didn’t think my work ethic was where it should be,” Strong said. “That’s why they wanted me to go stay with my brother. They wanted me to learn to grow up and be a man, too.”
By all accounts, Strong is all grown up.