When he was in 10th grade, Dante Trader Jr. realized in order to further grow and try to reach his full potential — athletically, in the classroom and, more generally, as a young man — he thought it best to leave his tiny hometown of Delmar, Delaware.
Back then, he was already the best player on his high school lacrosse team and the only one who played on a high-level club team.
Delmar High’s opponents knew it.
Following another frustrating game when the opposition hounded him with multiple defenders to keep him from getting the ball, Trader clearly had enough.
“He came off the field after the game and just looked at me and said, ‘Dad, I’m done. I need to go somewhere where I can work on getting better for college,’” Dante Trader Sr. said.
That place turned out to be McDonogh, where Trader, who also is a standout football player, was able to make a remarkable impact in a short amount of time under the difficult circumstances brought on by COVID-19.
As a junior last year, he enjoyed a banner football season playing wide receiver and safety for the Eagles. This spring on the lacrosse team, he was a senior captain at midfield, leading the Eagles to an undefeated regular season before being named an Under Armour All-American.
What those close to him at McDonogh quickly learned is his humility, team-first approach and leadership matches his incredible natural ability and game sense in both sports.
With all those traits at the forefront, Trader, who has committed to play both football and lacrosse at Maryland, has been selected as The Baltimore Sun’s 2020-21 High School Boys Athlete of the Year.
For the 18-year-old Trader, any accolades he receives are greatly appreciated, but he’s quick to pass on gratitude.
“I know my name is attached to it, but it all goes to God’s hands and all the people that helped me … it’s just my honest truth,” he said. “With God and the people around me — the people you don’t see that have helped me — I just want to say ‘Thank you’ for allowing me to get here.”
“I do have to give myself credit for being able to hold it together with all the pressure and play the season how I did. I ended up earning All-American honors and that’s a blessing and dream come true. But all that stuff doesn’t live long in my head because I know this next thing up, I can’t live without moving on to the next moment.”
Two years ago, that next moment was an out-of-state move from Delmar to McDonogh in Owings Mills, which Trader described as a daunting challenge at first but vital in his development by the end.
“I’m from southern Delaware — flat land, small town — my name runs through the town and now I’m going into a whole different pool of big dogs,” he said.
An ‘A’ student, he recognized the added demands academically along with the higher level of competition in practices and games in both sports. He reached out and was pulled in by his coaches, teachers, classmates and teammates. And he dug in and flourished.
McDonogh boys lacrosse coach Andy Hilgartner was impressed by Trader’s day-in, day-out consistency to always want to get better at everything put in front of him. In the process, he made those around him better as well.
“I think it’s really hard with all the competing factors — the normal high school years factors — academics, athletics, social life, relationships,” Hilgartner said. “There’s a lot that can pull you in different directions and for him to be able to succeed in those areas and still focus on all the lacrosse stuff, that’s really hard to do. I think all our guys did a good job in general, but I think that’s just how Dante is built.”
Trader brings dynamic, game-changing skills on the lacrosse and football fields.
With the pandemic shutting down his junior lacrosse season, his first taste of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference — regarded as the finest league in the country — came this spring and he proved to be ready.
His feel for the game, explosive speed and stick skills, and ability to shoot and pass enabled him to impact games a number of ways to help the Eagles to a 10-0 regular season followed by a quarterfinal playoff win against St. Paul’s. Despite getting upset by eventual champion Boys’ Latin, 13-12, in the semifinals, Trader looks back at his only season at McDonogh as a major success.
“I love the guys and look at it from a broader sense. My job also was helping coach [Hilgartner] and the other coaches to prepare the younger guys, so the program maintains the longevity,” he said. “If I can impact the younger guys, that’s more the bigger point. Yeah, you want to win, but how do I leave this program with my footprint on it?”
Trader’s impact on both the football and lacrosse programs at McDonogh are profound.
“What draws everybody to him is his humility. He’s such a great guy,” said Hilgartner. “I was talking to [Maryland coach John] Tillman the other day at a recruiting event and we were talking about him, saying how Dante is the first kid to notice when somebody may be struggling and need a little uplift, a word of encouragement. He did that throughout the year with our younger players.”
For Trader, the next moment has arrived. After graduating from McDonogh in June, he’s already at Maryland taking summer classes and working out with the football team.
“Early mornings, long days, you’re tired and you’ve got to do it over and over and over again. You got to grow up fast,” he said. “This opportunity is going to be crazy and I’m really excited to live it out.”