Boys’ Tennis: Orange’s Steve Johnson commits to USC

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Orange senior Steve Johnson, the two-time defending Southern Section singles champion, made a verbal commitment Thursday to play his college tennis at USC.

‘It’s close to home,’ he said. ‘I’m close to my parents. They’ve been a big part of my whole tennis career, and I’d like them to be able to be a part of it when I get to college, too.’

Johnson, the fourth-rated California senior tennis recruit (14th overall) in the country, according to, also took recruiting trips to Illinois and Boise State and canceled upcoming trips to Texas A&M and UCLA once he made his decision.

The son of two Orange graduates, he is the only Southern Section tennis champion in the school’s history.


Johnson defeated Stanford-bound Harvard-Westlake senior Ryan Thacher to win the Southern Section individual tournament when both were sophomores in 2006. Last May, he defended the title by beating fellow junior Alex Brigham of Pacifica Christian.

The victories made Johnson the first back-to-back singles winner since Tom Leonard of Arcadia in 1965 and 1966.

Johnson last month qualified for the main draw of a Futures-level professional tournament in Costa Mesa and then won a first-round match there to earn his first ATP tour rankings point.

He is undecided about whether he will play high school tennis next spring and try to become the third player to win the section tournament three times in a row. If he achieves the feat, he would be the first player in more than 50 years to do so.

Allen Cleveland and Jackie Douglas each won three consecutive titles for Santa Monica, from 1949-51 and 1952-54, respectively.

‘We hope he plays, for sure,’ Orange Coach Peter Tavoularis said. ‘I don’t know how much that’s going to happen, but he’s done a lot of great things for our team and our school, and I’ll support him whatever he does.’

- Lauren Peterson

-- Image by Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times