Johnson reaches another milestone

Bobby Johnson stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 125 pounds.

His rhythmic strides lead him, step-by-step along most cross country courses – dominating nearly every field the McDonald High School senior encountered.

Johnson wasn’t always that way. His steps were shorter earlier in his career – and so was his then-diminutive frame.

“It’s pretty funny,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you really don’t notice yourself growing. Then you look back and it’s like, ‘Wow, I look like a fifth -grader running as a freshman.’ “

Sunday, Johnson utilized every bit of his 5-11 body to work his way to a 13th-place finish at the Nike Cross Midwest in Terre Haute, Ind. Johnson, who was this year’s Ohio Division III state champion, ran with some of the best from Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri. He took 46th last year.

“To be able to go out there and run with all those guys, who are low 15-(minute) guys,” said Johnson, who ran 16:33.4. “My goal was the top 21, which was the podium. To be able to surpass that and get 13th, that was such an amazing goal. I was really pumped up about that one. I had a chance to get one or two spots higher, but 13th was an amazing opportunity. I felt like I left it all out there. I was really happy with that.”

Sunday’s race started earlier than slated because of rain, high winds and, in some cases, tornadoes that wreaked havoc from Illinois to Ohio. However, the course saw its fair share of rain prior to Sunday’s running.

“The night before it really rained hard,” Johnson said. “The course was really muddy when we ran. It was torn up pretty good. It was as pretty bad as you can get. The wind down there is pretty bad. Put the wind and the mud together really slowed you down a lot. Nobody broke 16 in that kind of a race.”

Cincinnati St. Xavier senior Evan Stifel won the race in a time of 16:03.7 – way below the standards of most of the field. St. Xavier finished second and won this year’s Ohio Division I state team title.

Johnson said his performance helped push him into Foot Locker Midwest Regional Nov. 30 in Kenosha, Wis. He and Boardman’s Mark Hadley, the Ohio Division I state champion, will run there.

“It’s definitely a confidence builder for sure,” Johnson said. “I knew when I got a race like this, I was so pumped up to be able to push some guys like this. You always have that doubt in your mind, ‘Can I race against these big guys?’ I think I really answered the question that I can really hang with these guys. I can go to Foot Locker and run in the top 15, top 20 or so and be able to finish strong on the season.”

McDonald coach Chris Rupe added Sunday’s performance and the one at Foot Locker is about preparing Johnson for college. Rupe added Johnson is not decided on a college.

“Bobby has made a point that it’s not just about high school,” Rupe said. “It’s about high school and well beyond. It was just a few years ago he was like 4-foot-9 and 92 pounds. That wasn’t very long ago. Looking at him now, you kind of forget that. We’ve tried to treat it with Bobby that it’s a natural progression of endurance training. This isn’t something that’s all about high school, hopefully not all about Ohio. He’ll compete at the collegiate level against some of the best runners around the country.

“Even though he was a little squirt for a long time and he’s starting to get his stride, it’s fun to watch him go out there and compete against people from all divisions and bunch of different states and be able to hold his own. He was up in the thick of things in that race the whole way. That was a lot of fun to watch, how far he’s come. The kid has always been great, always had a great heart for cross country. When you’re seeing him against the big boys from lots of states, that’s different from what we’re used to seeing.”