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Traditional Powerhouse Gets on Track

Men's Track Coach Mike Johnson stood on the edge of the track, clipboard in hand, watching his athletes practice. “It’s looking pretty good,” he said. As the men of Berea’s track and field team practiced for their first meet, Johnson anticipated a successful season. “I think we’ll be much better this year,” he said. “We’re going to be strong in throws and stronger in jumps. We’ll continue to do well in distance and sprints. We’re a pretty good team this year, and we have more balance.”

Members of the Men's Track and Field team practice before their first meet.

Johnson is now entering his 25th year as the men’s track and field coach at BC. During his tenure, he has been named either District, Area, Region, or KIAC Conference Coach of the Year a total of 34 times. Under his instruction, 19 students have become NAIA All-Americans, and 102 different athletes have qualified for national competition. He has never had a losing season. Despite the accolades and achievements, Johnson attributes his success to his students. “You could be one of the worst coaches, really,” he joked, “but if you had fine athletes, you would look like the best! We’ve been blessed with athletes that really try hard, athletes with a lot of talent, and intelligent athletes.”

One such athlete is Andrew Nash, a sophomore thrower from Georgia and last season’s Most Valuable Athlete. Johnson is counting on Nash, and other returning members, to perform well again this season. “Our strengths lie in our distance and throwing programs,” he said. “The distance guys train year round and compete at a high level for the cross country program in the fall. The throwing program is smaller and younger, but has added some depth and has competitors in each event. Our jumping core is young, but I expect them to come on strong as well.”

Ultimately, Nash hopes Berea is well represented at the national competition in California. Senior Shawn Jakubowski, a distance runner from Tenn., shares his teammate’s aspirations. Jakubowski is one of Johnson’s All-Americans and went to nationals his freshman year. “I’m hoping to score points at nationals as a team [this year],” he said. “A lot of our runners are in good shape from running all winter, so it should be a good season.”

In the off-season Coach Johnson is usually busy recruiting promising athletes for his team. Craig Ogle from Alabama is one freshman recruit rounding out the roster this season. Ogle, a participant in the javelin and pole vault events, is optimistic about his first season at Berea. “I feel that we have a strong track team in every area,” he said. “I am not familiar with college track; but, I know that through our hard work, natural talent and motivating leaders we should be able to beat some very competitive teams.”

“I believe Johnson did and excellent job in bringing in some young talent,” Nash said. “He brought in a few jumpers and sprinters who have some promise.”

LaRon Yow, a senior sprinter also from Alabama, agrees that this year’s freshman have great potential. “I think that the freshmen this year will bring more energy and enthusiasm to the team. Also, I think that they will push the veterans more and really put points on the board.”

Berea’s rigorous schedule provides an opportunity for considerable growth for both freshmen and upperclassmen. Each year, Coach Johnson creates a challenging season by arranging meets against mostly NCAA Division I schools. This season the men will compete against the likes of Vanderbilt University, The University of Tenn., and The University of Louisville, to name a few. “Many people don’t realize the richness of our schedule,” Johnson said. “This kind of competition makes them better performers.”

Throughout his years at Berea, Jakubowski has valued the experience of competing against top-notch athletes. “You can't perform to your best potential unless you compete against the best people,” he said. “In the big [meets] you have to struggle just to stay in the middle of the pack. It makes you feel good about yourself and gives you motivation when you're competing with that caliber of athlete.”

Indeed, Coach Johnson’s expectations were satisfied as his men tied for third place a their first meet at Centre College in Danville on March 4. The returning athletes proved reliable as several sophomores stole the top spot in several events. Andrew Nash and Brett Newton landed first place in the Discus Throw and the High Jump, respectively. Joe Eckert took first in the 110-Meter Hurdles, while Nick Citizen finished fifth in the 100-Meter Dash. The freshman athletes shined also as Kareem Holden took second place in the Triple Jump, with fellow freshman Jeff Bowling right behind in third place. Freshman Craig Ogle also placed sixth in the Javelin Throw.

The Track and Field team will head to Campbellsville College on March 9 for their second meet.

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