Cal Poly senior cornerback Vante Smith-Johnson was basically mute for the first six years of his life, and the Fresno Edison High product likes to joke that it’s because his twin sister enjoyed talking enough for the both of them.
Before he started speaking in the third grade, his mother, Bernadette Smith-Vance, was considering enrolling Smith-Johnson in special education classes, he said.
Now, he’s one of the more loquacious Mustangs players.
“It’s funny in life the transitions you make,” Smith-Johnson said. “This game taught me a lot, and that’s partly why I’m here today. Football was able to help motivate me to overcome a lot of obstacles in life. I guess I overcame them, but there’s many more I’ll face, and the strong background with this game is probably going to help me a lot.”
Smith-Johnson has been a contributor since his true freshman season in 2010. Part of his rise up the depth chart he can attribute to his comfort within the team dynamic, which he says functions similarly to that of his immediate family.
Smith-Johnson is one of seven children in a family that includes two sets of fraternal boy-girl twins and two other different-age siblings who share the same birthday.
Smith-Johnson’s twin sister Vontaisa attends college in Chicago, he said.
While Bernadette was a cheerleading coach, Vontaisa was a cheerleader for Edison, cheering on Smith-Johnson as he played quarterback for the Tigers.
“She’s the opposite of me,” he said. “Whatever I have, she didn’t have. Complete different personalities. I didn’t talk for six years. I had a twin sister that could do it.”
There’s also sister Joy Vance and brothers Lawrence Dorrough, Kevin Vance, Jay Jay Vance and Yaj Vance.
Of them all, only Jay Jay has a birthday to call all his own. Imagine how lucky he must feel.
Smith-Johnson might just be lucky to have such a family makeup. Fitting in on a football team and getting along with all those siblings isn’t all that different, he said.
“It’s just like being out here,” Smith-Johnson said. “Everybody has different personalities, and it’s just a tight-knit family.”