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Powering through personal adversity, Port St. Lucie's D.J. Juste has grown up quickly

Feb 04, 2013 -- 2:36pm

By: Wells Dusenbury

With his elusiveness and game-breaking speed, D.J. Juste makes it look easy on the field. The senior is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the state and has multiple Division 1 colleges vying for his services.

Off the field, life hasn't always been so simple.

When the Port St. Lucie senior isn't torching opponents, he has to cope with his mother's ailing health. Rosemarie was diagnosed with breast cancer two years and has been battling it ever since.

For an 18-year old kid with a large family, dealing with such tragedy would be difficult in its own right. D.J., however, doesn't have that extensive familial support system.

"I grew up only with my mom," says Juste. "She's just my world. I couldn't do anything without my mom."

With his father long out of the picture and having his younger sister pass away at an early age, Juste has had to grow up quickly.

Fortunately, the senior found a mentor in Port St. Lucie head coach Hilary Poole.

"Coach Poole is like the father I never had," Juste says. "I call him 'pops' all the time after a game. I call him 'dad' during the game. I'll call him 'coach' every once in a  while, but he really is like a father to me."

As a younger head coach, Poole can more easily relate to his players like Juste. For the 32 year-old though, that's not the only bond the two share.

"I was 16 years old and my mother had breast cancer, so I can relate to him," Poole explains. "It's a tough thing for a young man to go through, especially when you have all this attention he's been getting. It's tough to stay focused, stay grounded and take care of what you need to take care of and priorities, and I think he's done a fantastic job of it."

"He doesn't talk much about the tough things he's going through that much, but you know he's going through it."

Despite all the trials and tribulations he's gone through, the senior carries himself with a level of maturity rarely seen in an 18-year old kid.

Heeding the advice of his mother and head coach, Juste makes sure to contact every school that recruited him, even when he's not considering them anymore.

"It was hard to do that," Juste admits. "When it's close, I will call every other coach that hung in there with me. It takes a release off my chest that I've done that because a lot of players won't do that."

"They leave coaches hanging after they took all their time when they didn't have to take their time out to see us."

When he makes his college decision on Wednesday (the senior will choose between FAU, Buffalo and Illinois), he refuses to make it a spectacle, saying he doesn't want to disrespect any of the schools that have recruited him.

"I wouldn't want any kid I was recruiting to do that to another school either."

Commitment is also important to the senior.

Last year, he made a promise to the school's competitive cheerleading coach that he would join the team as a spotter. That of course brought up a number of conflicts with his recruitment. With cheerleading competitions and college official visits both taking place on the weekend, Juste inevitably faced a number of tough decisions: Go on an official visit and leave his team hanging or turn down a valuable personal opportunity.

For Juste, all he had to do is remember the promise he made to his coach. Of course, that left a number of college coaches dumbfounded.

"I remember I had to miss a visit to Navy and one time I had to miss a visit to Illinois because I had a cheerleading competition and they're like, 'Cheerleading? You're really going to miss a visit?'"

"Coach Poole is always telling me 'If you stick to a sport, don't quit, no matter what…No matter how much you hate it, you stick it out and I don't ever want you to quit because I don't want you to be able to think you can do anything.'"

While he's helped earn the cheerleading squad a berth in a state tournament, football has been the calling card for Juste. The Jaguars' standout has been one of the state's most electric and versatile players, helping take the program to unseen heights.

As a junior, Juste topped the 1,000-yard mark in both passing and rushing, en route to leading Port St. Lucie to its first winning season in 18 years. In addition to playing quarterback, he's also served as a kick returner and a cornerback.

His success naturally attracted the attention of numerous Division 1 programs, who have hotly pursued him during his high school career. So what's he looking for in a school? Someone to believe in him.

That's why when Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech came calling a few weeks ago, Juste said 'Thanks, but no thanks.'

"That just upsets me because, nothing against Georgia Tech or nothing against Vanderbilt, I just feel like they didn't believe in me in the beginning and that's a big factor for me," says Juste. "I have 'believe' tattooed on me because that's big factor. I want someone to believe in me and to believe I can do something."

Juste has also heard from his fair share of skeptics who feel he doesn't have what it takes to be an elite signal caller. Doubters who feel his athleticism would be better suited elsewhere on the field.

"A lot of people told me I'd never be able to play quarterback or that no one would take a shot at me playing quarterback," Juste says. "I want to prove the world wrong. I'm an underdog and I like that. I like the challenge."

Wherever Juste decides to play quarterback, he knows he'll have at least one fan supporting him in his cause. His mother, who has attended every one of his games since he's been 12, has pledged to once again support her son, despite her ailing health.

"She said where any game is, she's going to fly to it or drive to it, just to be there for me, no matter what."

"I'm her only son, and I wasn't always the only one. I lost my sister at a young age, so she's always promised that she'd be there for me. She doesn't want to lose me, so she wants to be there no matter what with me."

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