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Chris Johnson: The competition never ends

Athletic Communications
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The University of Arkansas Athletics Department is recognizing current Razorback administrators and coaches as part of a series celebrating Black History Month on ArkansasRazorbacks.com.

Throughout the month of February, individuals will be featured on the web site for their contributions to the University of Arkansas, the Razorback program and society. This marks the fifth year Razorback Athletics has celebrated Black History Month with a special features series on ArkansasRazorbacks.com.

This year's list includes Razorback administrators Eric A. Wood, Byron Hatch, Marcus Sedberry and Marvin Caston along with coaches Melvin Watkins (men's basketball), Tari Cummings (women's basketball), Chris Johnson (women's track and field) and Randy Shannon (football).

Growing up in a home with four brothers Chris Johnson found things to be a bit competitive. Every small competition between the siblings meant something and like most people you never forget the small victories. It was that upbringing and competitive nature that has helped Johnson in his track and field career.

Raised by his grandmother, Johnson and his brothers attribute most of their successes to her.

“She raised us and taught us about becoming men,” Johnson said. “She gave us that drive and motivation to get to where we are today.”

As they grew up the rivalries changed, but the competitive nature never died.

Johnson found himself mostly competing with his brother Lawrence. Lawrence also found his calling on the track and in coaching track and field. Most recently Lawrence was a head coach at Clemson.

People would often ask them why they chose track and field and he would offer up the simple answer – they were just good at it.

“I think it was just a niche,” he said. “We played football, basketball and track and it was just a way of life. Track seemed to be the one that we exceled at the most and you tend to take a liking to the things you are good at.”

With both brothers in the same field the competitive juices were constantly flowing between the two.

 “We were always competitive,” he said. “He wants to win and I want to win obviously, but at the same time we respect what each other does, but we are very competitive when it comes down to it. When he wins or I win we shake each other’s hand and move on.”

Both he and his brother Lawrence have ties to the Razorbacks, as Lawrence ran track at Arkansas and helped the Razorbacks to four SEC Indoor Championships and one NCAA Outdoor National Championship in 1998. Chris grew fond of the Razorbacks and had an opportunity to become a graduate asistant for the Hogs and eagerly took the position.

“It was just an opportunity,” Johnson said. “I had an opportunity to get a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas and be a graduate assistant and I seized the opportunity.”

Prior to taking the graduate assistantship at Arkansas Johnson began his track and field career at Lamar University. There he was the Sun Belt Conference champion in the 400 meters. After running at Lamar he knew he wanted to pursue a career in teaching with the ultimate goal of coaching.

“I enjoyed my time at Lamar,” he said. “It was a great place for me and a great fit at that point in my life.”

Johnson was inspired by his coach at Lamar and knew it was his calling. He understood that the best coaches are oftentimes teachers first, so he took a teaching position teaching high school in Texas and coached on the side.

“I just think it’s rewarding for the coach and for the athlete to see the athlete develop and go from A-B-C and to watch the maturation of the person and not only as an athlete but as a person,” Johnson said.

After completing his graduate assistantship at Arkansas Johnson moved on to work at Penn State and was a part of much of Penn State’s recent success in track and field and was named the 2012 USTFCCCA Mid-Atlantic Men’s Outdoor Assistant Coach of the Year
Johnson was pivotal in more than 50 All-America performances at Penn State, including NCAA victories from Shana Cox in the 400-meters and Cox, Aleesha Barber, Dominique Blake and Gayle Hunter in the 4x400-meter relay in 2008.

When the opportunity arose to return to Arkansas and the place that he began his coaching career he gladly accepted. Johnson gets to coach some of the best athletes in the nation as Arkansas is home to the 2013 SEC Indoor Champions.

He explains that one of the best parts of coaching is seeing an athlete win a national championship or achieve a personal goal.

“It’s rewarding,” he said. “You see a kid that starts off with a dream and they go through all of those things it takes to be that kind of athlete, watching them grow and watching them go through those processes to get to that point.”

As happy as he is at Arkansas, he has ultimate aspirations of becoming a head coach someday. However, he said right now he is focused on winning a National Championship to follow the SEC Indoor title won by the Razorbacks on Sunday.

A National Championship would be the icing on the cake for Johnson and the rest of the staff after a tremendous season. A National Championship would also give Johnson some bitter sweet bragging points with his brother Lawrence, because after all the competition never dies.

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