In any other year, Cheney High’s Charles Johnson III would have been the fastest sprinter in the state regardless of classification last spring.
The only problem was the fastest sprinter was nearby. Worse yet, he was in the same league.
Johnson and the speedier Rodrick Fisher of East Valley faced off six times last year. Five times, Fisher prevailed.
The lone time Johnson beat his rival came in a league dual when they ran what would be pedestrian times for them. Johnson finished in 10.93 seconds, .05 ahead of Fisher.
It was the second consecutive year that Johnson ran in someone’s shadow. When he was a promising sophomore, Zechariah Herford of West Valley stole the headlines.
This spring is Johnson’s time to shine.
“I hope this is a breakout year,” Johnson said.
Johnson ran personal bests in the 100 (10.60) and 200 (21.66) in the state finals last year. Both are school records. As impressive as the times were, the best he could do was finish runner-up to Fisher.
Johnson would have loved to have had one more spring facing off with Fisher.
“I kind of miss him because he always pushed me to go faster and faster,” Johnson said. “Finishing second to him at state just made me want to work harder.”
Johnson will join Fisher at WSU in the fall. Johnson signed a letter of intent Wednesday to continue his track career.
Cheney coach Derek Slaughter was impressed with how Johnson handled himself last spring.
“The best thing about Charles is it didn’t bother him a bit,” Slaughter said. “He realized Rodrick was special. Not much bothers CJ. He’s very levelheaded as an athlete and in the classroom. Not too many high highs and not too many low lows. But when he gets happy, you can tell.”
Johnson will have a lot of happy moments this season.
His early times are ahead of his pace a year ago. His personal bests are 10.87 in the 100 and 21.84 in the 200.
“You’re seeing a one-man wrecking crew so far,” Slaughter said.
Cheney tied for the State 2A championship last year. Johnson anchored the winning 1,600 relay, the last event of the meet, to secure the tie. It was the only event the Blackhawks won.
Johnson also anchors the 400 relay. Cheney is blessed with several capable sprinters. A combination of the fastest four – Peyton Putney, Kevin Houndonougbo, Carson Brown, Isaiah Dunn, Zach Jongeward and Jacob McGourin – will earn spots to team with Johnson on the relays at state.
Although it’s early, the relays are ranked No. 1 in the 2A rankings. Johnson sits atop the 100 and 200 and is tops in the overall rankings for all classifications in the 200 and second in the 100.
Johnson wants to sweep the sprints at state and anchor victorious relays.
He also has his sights set on lowering his personal bests. He’d like to get in the 10.2 to 10.3 range in the 100 and near 20.9 in the 200.
Slaughter said the foursome in the 400 relay would have to run a flawless race break the school record (42.6), but the 1,600 relay record (3:20.9) should be eclipsed.
“We have the potential to go under 3:20,” Johnson said.
Slaughter is in his third year as head coach. He knew immediately when he took over that he had a natural leader with Johnson.
“He’s given so much to our program,” Slaughter said. “We’ve built an entire track program around him. There’s not a kid on the team that doesn’t like CJ. He’s the best quiet leader I’ve ever had.”
Johnson spent the winter preparing for this season.
“I lifted weights,” he said. “It really made me focus on the little things … to fix the minor details in my races.”
Johnson’s footprints will be all over what could be a decisive team title at state. Cheney has several others who will score points.
“I was excited when we left state last year thinking about (this year),” Slaughter said.
A team title is just as important to Johnson as individual success.
“We want to clearly win this year and not tie,” Johnson said. “For me, I’m going to try my best and, no matter, what I’ll be happy with it.”