Terrel Johnson, of West Valley High School, added another award to his already long list of accolades after being named the 2018-19 Gatorade Alaska Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year on Monday. Johnson is the first to win the award from West Valley High School.
The 5-foot-9, 165-pound senior won three individual events at the Division I state meet this past season, leading the Wolfpack to second place as a team. Johnson won the 300-meter intermediate hurdles in 40.28 seconds, notched 21 feet, 31/2 inches in the long jump and cleared six feet three inches in the high jump. He also ran the second leg on the victorious 4x200 relay.
The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the track, distinguishes Johnson as Alaska’s best high school boys track and field athlete.
“It’s hard to find something he didn’t improve in,” said Milo Griffin, head track and field coach at West Valley, reflecting back on Johnson’s high school career. “He was jumping 18 to 19 feet in the long jump when he started and now he’s doing 21 to 22.”
But the area in which Johnson improved most his senior season is also the hardest to quantify: his mental toughness.
Going into the Division I state meet his junior year, he was the favorite to win the high jump and long jump competitions. He didn’t win either — he placed second in the high jump and third in the long jump.
“I choked,” Johnson said bluntly. “I kind of felt like I was supposed to win it so that put a whole bunch of pressure on me and just affected my performance.”
But even when faced with the loss, Johnson never let it affect his character or the way he treated his teammates.
“Kids can be really cruel to other kids whenever you have a bad time or you don’t do well in an event,” Griffin said. “He never let that disappointment and expectation he had of doing well in an event of doing well at state last year effect his personality with the people around him.”
After the meet, Johnson and Griffin discussed what had happened so they could move past it.
“He first had to deal with himself, because the expectations you put on yourself sometimes kill you,” the head coach said. “If you are able to deal with that and rise to that occasion then that is what good and great athletes are able to do.”
Johnson’s focus for his senior season was just to have fun and not let the weight of his own expectations limit his natural abilities. His efforts were successful and he has four state titles to prove it.
Although Johnson is a standout in all of his events, his favorites are the long jump and high jump.
“They get over with fast. It’s better than running a whole 300 meters,” he said.
Johnson will be missed by the West Valley track and field program next year for more than just the points he would consistently add to the scorecard each meet.
“He’s one of those quiet guys who never says anything, but he’s leading the guys and you don’t see it,” said Griffin. “They rally to his strength.”
Johnson has maintained a 3.13 GPA in the classroom. He has signed a National Letter of Intent to compete in track and field on scholarship at Colorado State University-Pueblo beginning this fall. The incoming college freshman lived in Colorado when he was younger and is excited to go back to where he calls home.
Now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade National Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year award to be announced in June, Johnson joins an elite alumni association of state track and field award-winners, including Lolo Jones, Allyson Felix, Robert Griffin III, Grant Fisher and Candace Hill.
The Gatorade Player of the Year program annually recognizes one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track and field, and awards one National Player of the Year in each sport. From the 12 national winners, one male and one female athlete are each named Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year. In all, 607 athletes are honored each year.
Johnson joins recent Gatorade Alaska Boys Track and Field Athletes of the Year Jacob Moos (2017-18, Galena High School), Brandon Nicholson (2016-17, Colony High School), Brett Morman (2015-16, South Anchorage High School) and Levi Thomet (2014-15 and 2013-14, Kodiak High School) among the state’s list of former award winners.
As a part of Gatorade’s cause marketing platform “Play it Forward,” Johnson also has the opportunity to award a $1,000 grant to a local or national youth sports organization of his choosing. He is also eligible to submit an essay to win one of twelve $10,000 spotlight grants for the organization of choice, which will be announced throughout the year.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7586. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMsports.