Growing up, Dante Trader Jr. was quickly acquainted with the game of football thanks to his father being an assistant coach at Salisbury University.
When he was eight years old, his dad came to him with the choice to diversify his skill set with baseball or lacrosse, and he opted to pick up the lacrosse stick.
“I went out and tried lacrosse — but it was hard at first,” Trader told Testudo Times. “I just got good at it over the year and years.”
That decision paid off well for Trader, now the No. 5 rated prospect in the Class of 2021 and committed to Maryland men’s lacrosse. And he’ll also play football for the Terps.
Once he became fully invested in lacrosse, Trader and his family faced a tough decision. He attended Delmar Senior High School in southern Delaware, but chose to play club lacrosse much farther away, joining the 2021 Madlax-Capital team and even earning a spot on the Madlax 2021 National team.
“[Trader and his family] would drive two-three hours to our practices — and still does,” Madlax program director Cabell Maddux told Testudo Times. “That’s part of his drive and what makes him so good. Madlax is one of the best teams in the country — so he recognized that he had to get over the [Chesapeake Bay Bridge] to either D.C. or Baltimore, and we’re fortunate that he chose Madlax and D.C.”
As a midfielder, Trader is a true two-way player who takes pride in his play on both ends of the field. He possesses a strong ability to read opponents and then make the right pass or finish while in transition, which sets him apart from a lot of other midfielders in his class.
“[Trader is] dynamic, explosive — every adjective at the most extreme,” Madlax 2021 Capital head coach Kevin Curtin told Testudo Times. “He is just smart — smarter than most people out on the field, faster than everybody out on the field, is quicker than everybody out on the field.
“It sometimes feels unfair for some of his opponents to have to try and keep up with him or have to try and get by him when they’re on offense. He’s a cheat code.”
Looking ahead to his junior year of high school in 2019, Trader decided to make another big move. The midfielder transferred to the McDonogh School in Baltimore to benefit his growth as a lacrosse player with the tough competition that the MIAA provides.
After arriving at McDonogh, Trader and his family came in contact with Andy Hilgartner, the boy’s varsity lacrosse head coach. As soon as the contact lanes opened up, Hilgartner quickly began to try and prepare Trader and his family for the new NCAA contact period — which starts on September 1 for high school juniors.
“I just wanted Dante to be prepared for Sept. 1,” Hilgartner said. “[I wanted him to be ready] for all the different schools that probably were going to reach out to him. And during the summer, he really gave me the feedback that Maryland would certainly be his top choice.”
Trader’s relationship with Maryland actually began in eighth grade when he was able to take a visit to Maryland and have contact with head coach John Tillman and his staff just weeks before the rule change was put in place.
When Sept. 1 did roll around, there was no love lost between both sides, as Maryland assistant coaches Jesse Bernhardt and J.L. Reppert were some of the first coaches to make contact with Trader — who essentially had his mind made up.
“Since I was young, I just loved Maryland for some reason,” Trader said. “I just love that flag and what the school stands for. When I got to understand coach Tillman, his philosophy of the game, how he coaches to his players and the family of Terrapins was just amazing.”
Even though lacrosse is his top sport, Trader is also a menace on the football field due to his natural athletic ability. The Maryland football staff was able to pick up on his talents as a defensive back this fall as well, extending an offer to Trader, which he also accepted.
“My head coach for football said, ‘The Maryland coaches want to see you come to a game’,” Trader said. “I went to two games and then I ended up talking to coach Locksley. He was like, ‘Man, you can really play. You’re really a baller. It’d be crazy to have you.’”
Despite his junior season at McDonogh being his first in the program, Trader was able to shock coaches and those around the program by earning significant playing time on both sides of the ball as a free safety and wide receiver.
As a junior, Trader tallied 27 catches for 537 yards and six touchdowns on offense, with six interceptions, eight pass break ups and 18 solo tackles at the free safety position. And he was named a 2019 All-Conference selection by the MIAA.
McDonogh head coach Hakeem Sule said Trader’s ability to track down the ball is what separates him from others at the free safety position.
“He’s got good hand eye coordination,” Sule told Testudo Times. “When you look at what he can do in terms of just getting to the ball, getting around the ball, he has a pretty good knack for the ball. ... He’s a guy who not only can tackle, but can create by tracking down the ball and making big plays.”
At the college level, Trader mentioned that coaches from both the football and men’s lacrosse staffs just want him to be sure he can handle the workload of both sports as well as school — which should not be a problem.
“Every morning, he gets up at six o’clock, he’s in the weight room, training, working on his body, and he’s there after school,” Sule said. “So he’s a guy who not only excels in the classroom, but puts in the work every day before and after school in the weight room. If he continues to do that and stays healthy, the sky’s the limit for him.”
Due to NCAA rules, Trader’s full scholarship would officially go down as a football scholarship for counting purposes. He is eligible to officially sign his letter of intent with the Terps in December 2020.