By TED RADICK
Patrick Henry sprinter Donny Johnson lit up the track Wednesday during the first day of competition at the Division III regional track and field meet at Tiffin’s Frost-Kalnow Stadium.
It brought a big sigh of relief from the Patriot senior.
Johnson, who qualified for today’s finals in four events, has had an injury-plagued career. He missed the regional meet in both his sophomore and junior years with hamstring injuries.
“This year, I’m just going strong,” Johnson said.
Today’s final day of the meet begins at 5 p.m. with field events. Running finals begin at 6 p.m. The top four finishers in each event advance to next week’s OHSAA championships at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus.
Johnson started his day Wednesday by finishing second in his heat to Cory-Rawson’s Mason Warnimont in the 100-meter dash. He qualified to tonight’s final with the fourth-fastest time in 11.22 seconds.
Johnson anchored PH’s 400 relay to a victory in its heat in 44.29. Johnson, Mitchell Bonner, Sean Norden and Alex VanDeBussche ran the second-best qualifying time behind Eastwood (43.68).
Johnson won his heat in the 200 in 22.79, and qualified second behind defending state champion Warnimont (22.65). He capped his day with a bang, joining Bonner, Norden and Xavier Wensink by winning heat 2 in the 1,600 relay with the fastest qualifying time of 3:28.56.
Johnson was especially pleased about the Patrick Henry relays getting through to the finals.
“It’s not just me,” he said. “It’s every step of the race, from the first to the last. I love that my guys are getting a lead and giving me an opportunity. The love of the race, I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.”
Back on the track this season after two years marred by injury, Johnson is simply pleased to be competing. His last trip to Columbus came in his freshman year in 2014 as part of Patrick Henry’s eighth-place 400 relay quartet.
“I wanted to take one step at a time,” he said of his approach this spring. “The past two seasons, I had to forget about those. Staying healthy this spring, that was definitely a focus. I tried new things, concentrating mainly on core strength.
“I listened to my coach about training. I trust in my coach, he’s taken us this far. You have to give coach (Jason) Gubernath a lot of credit. He probably won’t even like it that I mention his name, but all of us are behind him. We’re all doing this for him.”
Being healthy at this time of year is almost something new and different. Sure, there’s the soreness that comes from workouts and competition, but a little fatigue sure beat the alternative.
“I’m feeling great,” Johnson said. “It’s the end of the season, and I can definitely tell. You have to keep fighting through it and, come Friday, there’s athletes out here everywhere and I hope Patrick Henry can keep moving forward. We’ll take it one step at a time.”
Johnson, after rushing 327 times for 2,512 yards and 37 touchdowns for Patrick Henry’s 13-1 Division VI state semifinalist football team in the fall, will play football for Bluffton University. He’s mulling the idea of competing for the Beavers in track as well, and Bluffton coach Karen Brandt was on hand Wednesday to push the idea further.
“The track coach talked with me today, and she told me to give it a try,” Johnson said. “I’m thinking about it. I mean, I’m good at it, so …
“Being new at it, being a college student, I just don’t know how much effort and work it would take to even it out with academics and doing more than one sport. If I do, I’ll do it with no complaining or anything, but right now I’m just looking to see what steps I have to follow to get where I need to be.”
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Prep Track: Patrick Henry’s Johnson rolling at regionals
By TED RADICK