San Mateo teen turns to boxing to stay out of trouble

SAN MATEO, Calif. (KTVU) - A 14-year-old boy from San Mateo has overcome tremendous odds. He turned to boxing to rid himself of a troubled life.

He's now on the right road and headed to the Junior Olympics. His laugh and smile is infectious, and his head seems to be in the right place.

"I love boxing but my education is more important when it comes down to me succeeding in life," said Steve Johnson III.

That's why Steve Johnson the Third chose the nickname 'School Boy' when he competes.  The 14-year-old is one of the nation's best junior boxers.

Before he discovered boxing, Steve and his father had a tough life living in San Francisco's public housing. 

"I love my dad but I don't want to be who my dad was," said Steve Johnson III.

"I've been shot. I've been incarcerated," said Steve Johnson Jr., Steve Johnson III's father.

Dad moved to San Mateo leaving young Steve behind and heading down the wrong path. He started to fall behind in school and was getting into fights until three years ago when something changed School Boy's life. 

"It was like two in the morning and I was crying. I was hearing gunshots. I just felt if I was to stay there I would have been just another face. Another person on the newspaper - local boy dead," said Steve Johnson III.

So he called his father and asked to come live with him.  "I knew if I could get my son out of those projects I'd have the chance to see Steve Johnson. Because I didn't get to see this real Steve Johnson until I was 30," said Steve Johnson III.

A year after School Boy moved in with his father, he took up the sport of boxing. 

Now he's nationally ranked in his weight class.

However the entire time he keeps his eyes on the real prize.

"You go into the ring with your boxing but you always have your education," said Steve Johnson III.

Competing in the sport he loves is pricey. He trains at B-Street Gym where the owner put a tip jar on the counter to help support Steve's dream of becoming a Junior Olympic Champion. School Boy also sells candy bars to pay for his trips. 

"It makes me want to cry every time I want to look at him," said Steve Johnson Jr. 

"I know my dad wishes he could be in my place sometimes and I love that. I love to know that my dad wishes he could be me," said Steve Johnson III.

Fighting back the tears, School Boy says making his father proud is important.

"It makes me really smile sometimes because I love my dad and he really brings out the best in me," said Steve Johnson III.

School Boy is headed to West Virginia next month to take part in the Junior Olympics where he hopes to win another title.