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Dorsey’s Justin Johnson is a big part of intense rivalry

At 6 feet 3 and 270 pounds, Justin Johnson looks as if he has eaten lots of catfish, grits and waffles from his parents’ restaurant, the Serving Spoon, located near Dorsey High.

“I’ve been eating there my entire life,” Johnson said.

The breakfast crowd is going to have plenty to talk about this week because the biggest event of the year in the neighborhood takes place Thursday night: Dorsey (7-1) against host Crenshaw (5-2) to decide the Coliseum League championship in football.

“The rivalry is so big because it’s the guy who lives next door that you’re playing against, so it makes it that much more fun,” Johnson said.

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Added Dorsey Coach Paul Knox: “It’s one of the most outstanding rivalries that you’re ever going to see, probably in the United States. Two schools this close together share one middle school. Half go to Dorsey, the other half to Crenshaw. Parents have gone to one school, kids have gone to another. The area is just loaded with talent.”

One of those talented players is Johnson, a starter at offensive guard and at defensive tackle for Dorsey. He has a 3.8 grade-point average and has been a standout on offense and defense.

“He’s made big improvement in the weight room since ninth grade,” Knox said. “He’s got a big body with a heavy lower frame, and it gives him a lot of power, and that’s why he’s able to be one of our better run blockers.”

Johnson’s brother, Jerry, is a receiver at UCLA. He attended Venice, wanting to take advantage of the Gondoliers’ passing schemes. Johnson, though, decided to be part of a Dorsey tradition under Knox that has produced more than 100 college players since Knox took over in 1985.

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Knox’s office walls are covered with photos of ex-Dorsey players who have gone on to college and the NFL, and those with the last name of Johnson have been particularly productive, such as Keyshawn, Stafon, Jeremiah and now Justin.

“Whatever that connection is with the Johnsons, it’s been good for us,” Knox said.

None are related, but Justin Johnson understands the legacy he and his teammates are trying to uphold.

“It makes you want to play even harder because you know all the people who’ve come before you,” he said. “It’s kind of a legacy that’s built at Dorsey, and Coach Knox has instilled that upon all the players he’s coached. I’m just trying to carry on that legacy.”

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Since becoming coach, Knox has never sent one of his players to a military academy. Johnson could be the first. He’s at least considering the Air Force Academy.

“I know it would teach me self-discipline like no other,” he said. “It’s just the fact after you graduate, you have four more years to serve. I know I will be set for life, but at the same time it’s a big commitment I have to deal with. I have to discuss it with my family and coaches.”

During Crenshaw week, Dorsey players don’t just hear about the importance of doing well from their coaches. The alumni come out in force reminding the players what the game means, though players don’t really need extra motivation.

“The atmosphere is amazing,” Johnson said.

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Johnson hasn’t beaten Crenshaw in his three years at Dorsey.

“It’s the worst feeling in your life,” he said. “I still have not heard the last of it.”

Of course, eating catfish, grits and waffles is supposed to be good for the soul, or the gut, win or lose.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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