Crenshaw senior cornerbacks Dominique Hatfield, left, and Mossi Johnson… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)
Dominique Hatfield won't forget the moment last month that his football coach at Crenshaw High, Robert Garrett, told him a letter had just come in via school fax machine.
It was a scholarship offer from the University of Utah.
"It almost brought me to tears," Hatfield said. "I started jumping and hugged Coach Garrett."
He sent a text to his mother, Meka. She called 15 minutes later.
"She was screaming," Hatfield said.
The same joy was felt by Hatfield's teammate, Mossi Johnson, when UCLA offered him a scholarship last month.
"I always dreamed of this but never thought it would come true," Johnson said.
Hatfield and Johnson are senior cornerbacks who started the season with uncertain college options. Now both will be headed to the Pac-12 if they fulfill their academic requirements.
Each is a key figure in the rise of Crenshaw (10-1), which plays rival Dorsey (7-4) on Friday night in a 6 p.m. City Section Division I quarterfinal playoff game at Crenshaw.
It's an inspiring lesson what can happen when teenagers decide to focus on and off the field.
Hatfield, 5 feet 11, 160 pounds, and Johnson, 6-1, 175 pounds, started their high school careers with less-than-stellar academic credentials. Hatfield went to Narbonne as a freshman; Johnson was at Santa Monica. Neither was thinking about how important grades might be in the future.
Johnson's mother lived across the street from Crenshaw, but he went to Santa Monica because that's where he lived with his father. "Every kid said I was a nice kid," Johnson said. "I didn't apply myself."
His parents decided to send him to Crenshaw. He didn't know anyone. He didn't play football as a sophomore. He started to get his grades in order. He was also a point guard in basketball. He started the grunt work needed to climb from the bottom to the top.
"In ninth grade, I was lazy," he said. "When I got here, everything changed. I started doing better and better."
Said Garrett: "He's matured. He's self-sufficient. He's worked hard to earn a scholarship."
Johnson has six interceptions in his first season playing cornerback. He had two interceptions in an upset victory over Westlake Village Oaks Christian.
"I'll do anything to win and I think I can play any position on the field," Johnson said.
Hatfield was sent to Narbonne in ninth grade on a permit, because he said his mother wanted him out of the neighborhood and focused on academics.
"It was harder and more distractions," he said.
He came back to Crenshaw seeking a "new beginning" after his freshman year.
Hatfield has become one of the City Section's most effective two-way players. As a cornerback, he has eight interceptions. He's also a big-play receiver. Against Dorsey last month, he had two interceptions and caught four passes for 79 yards in a 34-14 victory.
He has played football for 10 years and uses his instincts. He watches for hints and signs from the quarterback and receivers on defense. He tries to pick up trends on film.
Together, Hatfield and Johnson form what Garrett thinks is one of the strongest cornerback duos anywhere.
"They can play with anybody in the country," he said.
The two have been leaders on a team that has exceeded expectations, considering the Cougars have played with a 31-man roster that doesn't have a lot of size.
"This has to be the most satisfying year," Hatfield said. "This is more than a team. They're like my brothers."
Chemistry. Talent. Purpose. Focus. Hatfield and Johnson are demonstrating the qualities needed to succeed.