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Johnson is headed to Virginia


No. 1 returning US miler joins buddy Andrews at ACC school

By Jim Lambert

Jan, 1, 2009 - A couple years ago, Brett Johnson (photo left winning the 08 NJ MOC 1600- photo by John Nepolitan) was sitting in the stands at Franklin Field in Philadelphia watching the men’s college distance medley Championship of America race at the Penn Relays.

As he saw Texas anchor Leonel Manzano cross the finish line first, Johnson immediately had a thought race through his head..

``I remember saying to myself that I wanted to run for his (Manzano's) coach when I’m in college,’’ said Johnson.

Johnson had no idea who the Texas coach was at the time, but it turns out that he will indeed be running for him in college.

Johnson, a senior at Ocean City and the top returning miler in the nation, announced today that he will run for coach Jason Vigilante at the University of Virginia next year. Vigilante, who left Texas to take over at Virginia last summer, is a native of Morristown, N.J.

``I’m real excited,’ said Johnson. ``It was a tough decision between Virginia and Kentucky, but I woke up today and my gut told me that Virginia was the place for me. And a big reason for my decision was the presence of Vigilante. He’s done some great things and I have big plans for the future. I want to be the best miler in the country one day and run for Team USA, just like Leo (Manzano) did last year.’’

Manzano was second at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 1,500 last summer to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team.

Johnson said he had a conversation with Manzano last month that helped sway him toward Virginia.

``I called him up and I figured that it would only have a few minutes to talk, but he wound up talking to me for a couple hours,’’ said Johnson. ``I wanted to about coach Vig and he told me everything I needed to know. And the biggest impression he (Manzano) made on me was at the end of our conversation, he said that I ever wanted to talk about raced strategy or training or whatever, that I call him anytime.’’

Virginia has now landed the top two milers from New Jersey. Last month, Robby Andrews of Manalapan said he was going to Virginia.

Although Johnson and Andrews are buddies, Johnson said that’s not the reason he’s going there.

``I kind of waited as long as I did to decide because I didn’t want people to think I was just going where Robby went,’’ said Johnson. ``It certainly is a plus that he’s going there, but I made this decision based on what was the beat place was for me. ’’

Johnson ran a NJ state junior class record 4:08.51 in the mile last spring, the fastest in the nation by an underclassman and No. 6 in the country for the season. He also won the NJ Meet of Champions 1,600 last June in a meet record 4:09.03, and was sixth at the Nike Outdoor Championships in the mile in 4:11.22.

This past fall, Johnson earned a trip to the Foot Locker National Cross-Country Championships by placing eighth in 15:50.1 at the Northeast Regional Championships at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, N.Y. Competing on a severely injured ankle at the Foot Locker National race in San Diego last month, Johnson valiantly hobbled his way around the course to finish the race in last place.

Johnson said he’s getting close to 100 percent as he gets ready for his first indoor track season after giving up basketball.

To say that Johnson has some big goals for his first indoor season is a major understatement.

``I wouldn’t have given up basketball unless I thought I could try to run a sub four minute mile,’’ said Johnson. ``I know that seems like a lofty goal and I am not saying I will do it. What I am saying is that it's what I will be trying to do indoors.’’

The national indoor record in the mile is 3:59.86, set in 2001 by Alan Webb of Reston, Va.

Johnson will make his indoor debut at the Hispanic Games at the 168th Street Armory in New York on Jan. 10 when he runs the mile. He’ll then run the 1,200 leg for Ocean City’s DM team at the state Group 3 relays on Jan. 17, the mile at the Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 30, and the mile at the Boston Indoor Games on February 7.

``I’d like to get around 4:08 at the Hispanic Games and then get that down as much as I can at Millrose,’’ said Johnson. ``I know the track is slow at Millrose, so if I can run between 4:04 and 4:07 there then that would give me a lot of confidence that I can go a lot faster at Boston.’’

Since the Boston meet is the same day as the South Jersey sectional championships, Johnson will not be running in the NJ state championship meets in February.

``After the Boston meet, I’m not sure about the rest of my indoor schedule right now,'' said Johnson. ``All I know is that Shelby Greany (a four-time FL national qualifier who runs for Suffern High in New York) made me a challenge and wants me to run 3:58 . I have put that up on my wall and I’ll be trying to do that for her.’’