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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

JanMagnus Johnson co-captains Gators men’s tennis despite injuries

Johnson serves as a co-captain, role model for the young Gators team

Florida graduate student JanMagnus Johnson rips a backhand in the Gators’ 7-0 win against The Citadel on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.
Florida graduate student JanMagnus Johnson rips a backhand in the Gators’ 7-0 win against The Citadel on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

Back in October, the Gators men’s tennis team was in a battle against the University of Central Florida Knights in the Gator Fall Invite. Florida graduate transfer JanMagnus Johnson was facing off against UCF sophomore Francisco Llanes. 

Johnson lost the first set 6-3 and was down 5-2 in the second set, just a few points from losing the match. 

But he flipped the script, winning five straight games to even that match with a 7-5 win in the second set. Johnson rode that momentum to victory, closing out the match 6-2 in the third.

“Coming back from being down match point and winning that match with all my teammates on the side was one of the highlights of my season,” Johnson said. 

Despite excitement heading into the spring, Johnson has been forced to serve a different role on the court. Multiple injuries kept him from competing for nearly all of the spring season. 

“Things haven't gone as I would have hoped,” Johnson said. “I felt like I did pretty well in the fall, felt like I was finding a good level, and then got hurt. I thought it was going to be okay because we’d finished fall… but couldn’t really get healthy.”

But this hasn’t stopped Johnson from taking on a co-captain role, providing encouragement to younger members of the team and motivating his teammates during matches. 

Johnson, 23, is the oldest member of this Gators squad and has been critical for the development of the program and the people in it –– on and off the court.

“It’s really important to have those veteran guys that have been through it, especially when you have six freshmen,” Gators head coach Adam Steinberg said. “He and Nate [Bonetto] are and were very important to our success and leading these young guys… they’re extremely important to the development of these young players and development of our program.”

Steinberg said when it comes to having the makings of a team captain, Johnson checks all the boxes.

“He gives 100% to everything that he approaches — school, tennis — that's how he's made,” Steinberg said. “He has all the makings of someone you want as a leader and sets a great example for the young guys, especially this group… it’s been a pleasure having him in the program.”

The Cape Coral, Florida, native began his college career at UCF. His time as a Knight was short-lived due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he decided it was best for him to transfer to Florida Gulf Coast University to continue his academic and playing career.

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While at FGCU, Johnson accumulated quite a resume. He earned a singles record of 44-10 in dual matches across three seasons and gained a career-high Intercollegiate Tennis Association singles ranking of No. 65.

When his time as an Eagle came to an end, he had been awarded the Atlantic Sun Conference Freshman of the Year, ASUN All-Freshman Team, ASUN Conference Player of the Year and ASUN First Team All-Conference.

“At Florida Gulf Coast, it felt like it was a family, and I really enjoyed my time there,” Johnson said.

For his final season of collegiate tennis, Johnson knew the decision on where to play was easy. 

“Growing up, I always loved the University of Florida,” Johnson said. “For my fifth year, if I had the opportunity to play for the University of Florida and get to experience that with all the resources and the competition that’s here and just get to be a part of this great history, and that’s something that I couldn’t pass up.”

Though he has not been able to compete for the team on the court, he has proven why he is a team captain off of the court. He’s focused more on leading by example in his day-to-day life and offering knowledge to his teammates. 

“Being at this university, looking up to the guys that I’ve seen before me, captains at a program like this, I’ve always had respect for them, and I think just getting that opportunity and honor in itself has been an incredible opportunity,” Johnson said.

Gators freshman Henry Jefferson arrived on campus in January and instantly noticed what made Johnson special and worthy of being a captain.

“He’s very supportive, especially of the young guys that have just come in,” Jefferson said. “He’s helped everyone settle in.”

Johnson has always taken academics seriously, as he’s currently working on his master’s degree in sports management and has been awarded the ITA Scholar-Athlete honor three times.

His work ethic directly impacted Jefferson off the court, as they’ve spent multiple hours together in the dining hall working on school work, Jefferson said.

There is still hope Johnson can return to action for the Gators this spring, as he’s back to hitting and practicing with the team as the Gators head to the SEC tournament in April. 

“We’re still hoping that these next few weeks we get him back and that he starts feeling better,” Steinberg said. “It’s been fun watching him get back on the court this last week, hitting a bit more, so that’s the goal for him to still be able to compete this season.”

Johnson will be honored as part of the Gators' senior day festivities in their match against No. 19 South Carolina April 14.

Contact Chandler Hawkes at chawkes@alligator.org. Follow him on X @HawkesChandler.

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