Nunn’s decision to take track seriously has made a major difference in his life
by Andrew Stark
Last season, Johnny Nunn was a football player who ran track to keep busy. This year, he’s a track and field standout and state qualifier in the three different events.
Rocky River track coach Dexter Feaster believes the transformation that’s enabled Nunn to become one of the top track athletes in the region was close to taking shape last year. But this season, Nunn’s blossomed into one of the state’s top performers as he’s begun to realize how talented he is on the track.
“I’m proud of Johnny,” Feaster said. “He has grown up, and he’s matured a lot – you can see it in him.
“Last year, Johnny’s attitude was that track needed him much more than he needed track. He has aspirations of playing football on the college level, but I think Johnny is realizing that he may be as good, if not better, as a track athlete than he is a football player. He’s done everything I’ve asked him to do, and I’m so proud of his leadership.”
Nunn said he can see his development, too. Although he’s likely to attend Elizabeth City State University as a preferred walk-on to the football team, he’s not ruling out the possibility of rethinking his decision and looking for a school where he can be on the track and football teams, especially after his turnaround season on the track.
“Last year, I was out here to be out here,” Nunn said. “I was doing a few events and was training some but didn’t really take it as seriously as I should have. Not making states was hard for me to take but made me want to work harder.”
Nunn just missed qualifying for the state meet last year but feels his near-miss is what led him to respect track and field as more of a mainstream sport and make him work hard to improve.
After recording a personal-best of 22 feet in the long jump last year, Feaster said Nunn simply assumed he would show up to the 4A Western Regional meet and earn one of the top four automatic spots to the state meet. Nunn wound up fifth in the regional meet, just missing the state championships.
“My work ethic wasn’t as good as it should have been,” Nunn said. “It is my senior season now and my last chance to run high school track. I have been taking it seriously, and the results are coming with it.
“I had been waiting since last year to get back to the long jump pit. I love football, but all through the season I would look over here and see the pit, and it made me want to get back on the track and prove myself so bad. I knew I should’ve been at states last year, so I was ready for my chance.”
On May 12 at the regional meet, Nunn realized his goal by finishing third in the long jump (21 feet, 1.25 inches) and triple jump (43-0.25), earning an automatic bid to the state competition. Nunn also joined Tom Mathis, Kaylan Love-Soles and Quinn Burkhalter on the Ravens’ 4×400-meter relay team that finished third (3 minutes, 23.58 seconds).
Nunn’s year of redemption on the track started at the end of last season with his fifth-place regional finish. It was fueled when Feaster convinced him to run indoor track in the winter. Nunn said indoor track is faster paced and helped him realize that track was a big sport with a large following, much like football and basketball. Nunn found that he could compete with the top athletes in the state, and he was ready to fully dedicate himself to getting better on the track.
Last year, the Ravens only had seven boys on the squad. This year, they’re a talented group with a bright future, and Nunn wants to make sure he leaves the program headed in the right direction. Before the season, Nunn’s teammates named him a captain and he’s relished his role, helping to mentor younger runners, such as freshman Love-Soles.
“Last year was my first year running track, and I wasn’t too sure what to expect and how to prepare,” Nunn said. “As I’ve had success, and with (Feaster’s) help, it feels good to be recognized for it. But the biggest thing for me is I’ve been more of a leader. That’s what has improved the most for me.
“Kaylan asks a lot of questions, and I have tried to help him and show him the way. I’ve helped him, but really he has helped me because he has shown me what it really means to be a better leader. I guess we both have helped each other.”
Nunn is pleased he’s been able to show his younger teammates how hard they must work in order to have the type of success he’s enjoyed this year.
At the Marvin Ridge Invitational on March 17, Nunn had a “pretty good day,” finishing first in the long jump and third in the triple jump. He also helped the 4×400 relay team finish second and shave nearly three seconds off its best time.
“I’m proud of that event, but I am most proud of the team,” Nunn said. “We have really come together, and all the guys who came out for the first time this year have worked hard. It makes it easy to want to lead this team, and I’m happy with the way our year has gone.”
So is his coach.
“Johnny came out this year determined to work hard, and he has done that,” Feaster said. “He has taken on the responsibility of helping get this team better, and he’s done well with that. I cannot begin to tell you the change in his work ethic, and the other guys pick up on that, too. I’m really proud of Johnny. He’s come a long way.”
As Nunn enters his final high school meet on Saturday, he’s proud of what he’s accomplished this year. He feels good that he’s been able to achieve things he wasn’t disciplined enough to do a season ago. It means just as much to him that he’s helped jump-start a program that’s made big strides in only its second season.
“More people around school and at meets know me from what I have done on the track,” Nunn said. “I’m not at the biggest school with the best tradition, but I am an athlete, and I can compete with the best out there.
“When people hear my name during the (school) announcements, they know that we have people who can compete with the bigger schools, and hopefully that gets more people to come out. It means a lot to me to be recognized, and I’m proud of what I have accomplished.”