May 13, 2014
By Kristine Lozoya
"Life is not about hope. I did not hope to get back here or hope to get a second chance. I knew I could get back in and I knew my faith would carry me through." Those words and a single race at Woody Wilson Track were all that were needed for standout sprinter Marcus Johnson to rekindle his love for UC Davis and its track and field program.
The last three years have been a journey, figuratively and literally, for Johnson who began at UC Davis in 2010, only to leave for Santa Monica City College before returning last fall.
Johnson was initially admitted into UC Davis his freshman year as a civil engineering major. The quarter system is a challenge in itself and learning how to balance the academic workload on top of the additional hours towards track practice quickly became a sink-or-swim situation for him. His first year returned decent grades for the fall quarter but preceded inadequate winter and spring grades. Unfortunately, the latter overruled and the academic consequences left him no choice but to book a flight back to his home in Southern California.
Santa Monica City College became Johnson' temporary two-year stay where he not only continued his education and athletics but also incubated some time to realize that he was dissatisfied with the blemishes that recently occurred in his life.
"I did not like where my life was," he said."I felt like I did not reach my full potential with school and track and it bothered me that I was dismissed from Davis. I was motivated to be something better than what I was."
Johnson ran on Santa Monica's track team during his first year and then ran unattached the following year because he did not want to use his future seasons of NCAA eligibility.
During his unattached season, he was mostly training and traveling to meets as an individual. He wasn't interested in coming back to UC Davis and figured he would just transfer to another Southern California school. However, his mentality changed when he raced in the 2013 Woody Wilson Classic at UC Davis and concluded the campus was where he wanted to be.
After reconnecting with head coach Drew Wartenburg and former sprints coach, Kim Graham-Miller, Johnson's path back into the university was starting to open up. Johnson worked with the track team's athletic advisor and was given proper guidance towards the resubmission process. Various steps were required of him to get back into school, which included setting up a solid academic plan for the upcoming year.
Johnson ultimately earned a second chance back into UC Davis starting last fall when he began anew as a sociology major. Not only was he motivated to redeem himself in academia, he was ready to completely reconstruct his image as a student-athlete.
"I was motivated to get rid of my image from freshman year," he said. "I felt like I was not dedicated to the team. Although I felt like I was working hard, at the end of the day, I ended up getting dismissed. I knew what I was capable of and when I came back here. I internalized that and that's what has been driving me since."
So far, the 2013-14 academic year has reflected nothing but success and hard work for Johnson, according to Wartenburg.
"Marcus' return to the program has really represented a valuable addition in both the competitive environment and a daily basis," he said."It's safe to say he sets the bar, both on and off the track. He's provided a spark, along with some other folks, that has catalyzed some of that change on the men's team."
Johnson' "never give up, never quit" attitude seems to be working in all aspects of his student-athlete life. His remarkable return on the track has made various heads turn, including his most recent accomplishments at the Causeway Dual against Sacramento State on May 2. Johnson assisted in breaking the school record in the men's 4x100-meter relay (40.18) while also winning the 200.
"It takes a strong individual not to quit and now he is standing on the top of the conference," says sprint squad coach Rahn Sheffield. "That's like standing at the top of the mountain."
Johnson has traveled high and low and the next stop of his season will be held on home turf for the Big West Championships. Johnson is going into the championship meet ranked No. 1 (21.15) in the 200 and will also likely compete in the 400. The meet will be held on Friday and Saturday for the first time at UC Davis.
"I plan on winning both of my events at conference," said Johnson, "I feel that I have gotten to the level where I can run the times and do the things I know I am capable of doing. I'm excited for conference to get here and now I'm just trying to stay relaxed."
Johnson transitioned his attitude from where he "simply saw track as a college thing," into a wholesome lifestyle where he can see himself continuing to make a positive impact in his current and future athletic career.
For every day that is spent training and competing, he dedicates his hard work towards himself as well as his parents, five sisters, and beloved cousin whom has passed. Track is life and with his high degree of motivation and talent, all can be used as proper fuel to continue his efforts towards accomplishing his future endeavors.