Terrick Johnson's Path: From NJCAA To NCAA Division I Track

Photo Credit: MileSplit Tennessee

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When Whitehaven's Terrick Johnson graduated from high school in the spring of 2022, his resume included three state titles, the No. 7 fastest 400 meter time in Tennessee history and a documented range of events that illustrated he could be competitive collegiately from 100m all the way to the 800m.

What it did not include, however, was a scholarship offer someone of his caliber would typically command. 

"People would ask me this question too coming out of high school if I had any D-1 offers but no, nobody in D-1 hit me up," he said. 

Johnson will admit up front that his academic resume was not at the same level as his athletic one, but recruiting at that time was also in a peculiar situation.

All NCAA track athletes had received an extra year of eligibility due to the canceled season in the spring of 2020, bloating team rosters for the subsequent years.

Scholarships were not as available and Johnson found himself headed to Meridian Community College, a National Junior College Athletic Association school in Eastern Mississippi as a result. 

The JUCO Pipeline


Johnson's path wasn't an uncommon detour, however, and many have thrived taking it.

Most notably, before Fred Kerley broke the NCAA Outdoor record in the 400m in 2017, he spent two years at South Plains College before joining the Texas A&M Track program. Before Terrance Laird became an NCAA 100m champion for Louisiana State in 2021, he enrolled at Hinds CC following a stint with Penn State. 

Meridian reinforces this possibility to its athletes.

Johnson describes a board in the Meridian athletic facility that showcases what all athletes have gone through at the program and the schools they enrolled after they graduated.

During his freshman year, Johnson improved his time in the 800m from 1:54.94 in high school down to 1:51.78 and helped the Eagles secure a third-place finish at the NJCAA Outdoor National Championships in the 4x400m relay with a 3:07.19. 

The teams that placed first and second were South Plains (3:03.31) and Indian Hills Community College out of Iowa (3:03.96). That second one was important because that's where Johnson transferred to this past summer after a coaching change at Meridian. 

Though the indoor season is not yet over, to say that Terrick has thrived at Indian Hills may be an understatement.

On February 9, Johnson and his teammates set an NJCAA national record of 9:43.60 in the DMR; Johnson ran an 800m split of 1:49.9. 

While it goes without saying this is the fastest time in the NJCAA's this season, against all Division I NCAA programs it would rank 11th at the time of this publishing. 

Others took notice of these accomplishments and just yesterday Johnson committed to the University of Iowa after he received the offer he thought he would get initially when he graduated.  

"Don't Worry About Offers"


When I spoke with Terrick about this article, I asked him what advice he would give an athlete who is coming up on their final track season without the interest from the programs they think they should be attracting.

His ultimate advice he gave was to stop worrying. 

"Don't worry about offers while you are in high school," he told me. "Have fun with it. That's the problem I had when I was in high school. I was worried about offers a lot and that messed up a lot of my racing. I would be all in my head thinking like this race is probably going to change my life and every time I thought of it like that I had a bad race."

He also emphasized that even though an athlete may have to settle on the school at first, you won't be settling on the level of competition. Some of the leading times for the NJCAAs last outdoor season were exemplary and competitive even at the Division I level. 





Though Johnson's journey to NCAA Division I Track and Field may not be the standard recruiting experience, his is and will be a viable option that athletes should consider if they find themselves in similar circumstances. 

Congratulations to Terrick on his commitment and good luck in Iowa City next season.