Brian Johnson's business is well under way - and underfoot.

After five years of manicuring lawns, Johnson picked up his second proprietorship selling and renting floor mats to businesses and homes.All while in high school.

"There's only so much you can learn in the classroom. If I can go out and get hands-on experience, it's so much better. It has taught me so much," said Johnson, who just graduated from Murray High with a 3.7 GPA and co-owns AMRAD Inc. with 19-year-old Ryan Wright.

Johnson is among dozens of Utah students carving a business-world niche as part of an accelerating national trend. Whether specializing in high-tech Web sites or down-home quilting, young entrepreneurs epitomize School-to-Careers programs, which may ride such successes into the next century when federal funds dry up under the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994.

"It's a capstone experience, putting together all that they've learned," said Julie Felshaw, economic education specialist at the State Office of Education. "While students' businesses maybe don't last, the knowledge and experience follow them into adulthood."

Utah is among 39 states with School-to-Careers programs, easing the transition from classroom to workplace and preparing students for a competitive global economy.

The program, which has received some $1 billion in federal funds, is featured in ads narrated by Gov. Mike Leavitt, whose office honors young entrepreneurs annually.

Last spring, Jeffrey Hansen, a Murray student who began programming computers at age 6 and now runs a company making $72,000 a year, received $5,000 at the governor's Young Entrepreneur Awards Banquet.

Johnson, who attributes his success partly to internships offered by School-to-Careers, received a $3,000 award.

Johnson's drive, nurtured by businessman father Rick Johnson, surfaced at age 12 in lawn-mowing. Before long, the teen stockpiled a truckload of gear and delved into aerating. He even mounted flashlights on his lawn mower so daylight couldn't stymie his hours.

"I guess you lose a bit of sleep being an entrepreneur. But it's worth it," said Johnson, who looks forward to studying business marketing and public relations at Salt Lake Community College this fall.

Johnson, like many kids, realized early on that his services might be worth some greenbacks.

But students also can learn to cultivate talents into businesses via entrepreneur courses, Felshaw said. About 30 percent of Utah schools, even those outside the populous Wasatch Front, offer the curriculum.

"We find that some rural schools do interesting things, too," Felshaw said. "Students in rural areas sometimes don't have the opportunities that students in the metro area have for work experience."

Michelle Leonhardt can vouch for that fact. The recent Emery High graduate rolled out a quilting business in Ferron at age 15.

"There is no employment in Emery County," said Leonhardt, who recently moved to Logan to attend cosmetology school.

Like many entrepreneurs her age, Leonhardt followed family footsteps into business - five generations of quilt-makers in her case. Such tradition is handy around Michelle's Quilts and Accessories, "Home of the Invisible Tie."

Mom helps anchor and tie quilts, minus the tiny yarn tassel, during the busy Christmas season and tends the in-home business between the daughter's semi-monthly visits.

"If it gets too hectic, I'll have my mother do it," Leonhardt said of the company's future. "But I'm going to try as much as possible."

Such parent involvement provides not only a backstop but encouragement and boundaries, especially when it comes to schoolwork, Felshaw said.

"We need parents to be involved. If students become too successful, (the business) takes over," Felshaw said. "The students we work with fit homework into their schedules and keep up their involvement in other school activities and a little bit of a social life."

In that sense, Bryan Call is a master juggler.

As a Jordan High senior, Call plunged into the family Net FX business, creating a consulting and Web site design department. Last spring, he balanced managing the computer retail store with designing and maintaining a Web site for the Utah High School Activities Association wrestling tournament and studying for Advanced Placement tests, which promise college credit to high achievers.

"It was a much bigger nightmare than I thought it would be," the 18-year-old Call said. "But I thought it turned out OK in the end. If nothing else, it was an exciting learning opportunity for me and the other people involved."

Years of hard work also fine-tuned the Sterling Scholar's study skills, making homework easier. Study halls helped, as did slow nights at work. And when school heated up, parents were more than willing to help around the office.

"It's important to have support so you can put school first. Your business is not going to be a success overnight, and you're going to need to have school and training," said Call, who will attend the University of Utah this fall.

"I think the biggest thing through all this is that I've learned an awful lot about business, working with people and general life experience. It's been very valuable."