One of Dante Trader Jr.’s finest traits as a two-sport athlete is staying in the moment.
It has always been that way — largely out of necessity — for the McDonogh senior to get the most of his abilities, having committed to play lacrosse and football at Maryland.
Every repetition in practice is a full go. All the time spent in the weight room is maxed out. The same goes for film study and anything else that can give him an advantage.
And then when the time comes to perform — as it was during the Eagles’ lacrosse season opener against Mount Saint Joseph on March 23 — the Delmar, Delaware native is fully prepared to compete at a level few can match.
After transferring to McDonogh from Delmar High entering his junior year, Trader had a long wait to play in his first Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference game. By the time it arrived — the dynamic two-way midfielder finished with two goals and two assists in helping the Eagles claim an 18-3 win over the visiting Gaels — he had already established himself as one of the team’s most important players.
McDonogh coach Andy Hilgartner came quickly to appreciate what Trader brings to the program.
“Because of the kind of character he has, the type of person he is, he has without question the respect of everybody in our program. And so his leadership is going to be incredibly important for us,” Hilgartner said.
“With Dante, he’s a big-time football kid, he’s a big-time lacrosse kid and he comes from a small town, so I feel he’s always had a lot of pressure on him and he’s handled it so well. He never lets anything go to his head. He stays very grounded and is always searching to get better, looking to find ways to be a better player, a better teammate and a better person. … So I think that’s what’s going to be helpful for us as a team this season because we’re going to face adversity this year — we’re going to have ups and downs — and just having a senior leader like Dante who will keep everybody calm and keep everybody focused and on the same page is just invaluable.”
Serving as one of the team captains is something Trader cherishes with the Eagles off to a 2-0 start heading into Tuesday’s home game against rival Boys’ Latin.
“As a senior leader, you have all these tasks with the guys looking up to you, so you have to know what to say and how to act. But, at the end of the day, you’re still a player and no bigger than the team, so we have to do what’s best for the team and be ‘we’ guys,” he said. “I can’t force rules on people that I’m not doing. So I have to be in the weight room. I have to be going hard at practice. I want guys to look up to the leaders thinking, ‘If he’s doing this, then this is how I have to match the energy,’ and stuff like that.”
When he was 7 years old, Trader was given a choice by his father to sign up for lacrosse or baseball. The high-energy kid picked the high-energy sport with no hesitation as he joined the Salisbury recreation program.
Soon after, he became fully invested. He went on to join the nationally recognized Madlax youth club team, which is based in the greater Washington, D.C., area. Wanting to compete at the highest level in high school, he came to McDonogh for the chance to play in the MIAA.
“It’s a big goal for us to get to the end of the season with a championship, but we take it slow — game by game and practice by practice,” he said. “We just want to compete and be the best McDonogh team we can be and be the best players we can be. Each week, we have one goal to get better and compete every day.”
Trader played safety and wide receiver in football during his junior season at McDonogh, and the elements he brings to both sports stand out. At 6 feet, 188 pounds, the 18-year-old is explosive, is powerful and has exceptional game sense.
“You rarely get a kid that can run like a 4.4 or 4.5 40 [-yard dash] and also truck through a kid at the same time, so he’s definitely a good mix of strength and speed,” senior midfielder and fellow team captain Jack Dudas said. “It’s kind of funny to say he looks like a football player out there on the lacrosse field, but you can also say he looks like a lacrosse player out on the football field, so he’s got a good mix of all those abilities.”
Trader is quick to tell you his strong drive comes from his parents, Dante Sr. and Roniell. They have sacrificed greatly for him to chase his dreams, and his hard work and dedication have been his way of paying them back.
“It’s just like — you did this all for me, so this is the least I can do — go hard every day doing something I love,” he said. “Coming to McDonogh was a blessing, and every day I wake up, I think of my parents.”
The chance to play in a youth lacrosse tournament at Maryland when he was in eighth grade sold him on going to school there, and he committed to play lacrosse for the Terps on Sept. 6, 2019. While enjoying a banner first season on the football field at McDonogh that fall, he caught the eye of Maryland coach Mike Locksley and committed in November to play football as well. He’ll be headed to College Park soon after graduation in June.
Trader has taken time to reflect on his journey. It’s an inspiring one.
“I really learned a lot about myself,” he said. “I love to compete. I really love the process of the failures and the successes and all the ups and downs because I never quit and just coming back. So I really learned early that I’m determined and won’t quit — that’s a big thing I’ve learned from all of this.”
As for the challenge of becoming a Division I two-sport athlete, Trader will take it on full speed — but only when the time comes. Right now, there’s another lacrosse practice at McDonogh to attend.
“I’m going to approach it like any athlete should do — you put your faith in God and put your faith in yourself,” he said. “Honestly, I haven’t been there, so I can’t say I’m going to be able to handle it or won’t be able it. I know it’s going to be hard with the challenges, but I love to compete and I’m a tough kid and you’re not going to get any quit out of me. So I take it as day one, whoever is in front of me I respect, but I’m coming for everybody and that’s the attitude you have to have.”