Lake Norman & Mooresville

Blue Devil high jumper looks to new heights

Mooresville junior Kendrick Johnson has high standards whether he's in the classroom, on the basketball court or on the track.

The two-time I-Meck high- jump champion has raised the bar for himself this season.

"I'm definitely a lot more confident in myself as a jumper this year," said Johnson. "I just feel like it comes naturally to me now. Now, I want to prove I can compete for a regional and state championship."

He'll have to prove himself in the next two weeks - first at the 4A West Regional Saturday and then at the state meet in Greensboro May 14 if he qualifies.

While Johnson feels like he is a contender, a couple weeks ago he didn't know if he would make it to the meet at all.

Johnson was admitted to the hospital late last month when he felt a serious pain in his throat, which ended only being swollen tonsils.

"I was kind of scared, at first, when they checked me into the hospital," he said. "But after I got better real quick, I realized I was fine, and I was ready to get back on the track."

Johnson has been jumping his best of late as he posted a personal-best 6-foot-8 jump to win the Iredell County meet. That was nearly a foot higher than he had ever jumped in a meet.

Mooresville's Dwayne Jackson admits he was surprised by that performance.

"He has kind of plateaued out at 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 for a while," he said. "All of sudden his jump shot up exponentially. He's going like 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8, and I think he may be able to do even better."

Johnson hopes to take that same level of success to the two most important meets of the season. Last year, Johnson finished sixth at the regional meet, and did not qualify for the state meet, something he has focused on adding to his list of accomplishments in 2011.

"Both the regional and states are just one-day events and sometimes it comes down to who steps forward on that one day," said Jackson. "I think Kendrick has the talent to be a contender in any meet that he competes in."

Johnson, who's also an All-I-Meck selection as a key member of the Mooresville basketball team, uses his competitive drive and skill from the court and channels it onto the field, where he employs a similar style of visualizing his success.

"I try to approach the bar like I am trying to go in for a dunk," said Johnson. "It's a similar type of explosive jump. But I also try not to think too much, just jump as hard and as high as I can, and it's the same thing in basketball."

As he does on the basketball court, Johnson focuses on the task at hand, not his competition.

"A lot of guys want to showboat and talk a lot," Johnson said. "That's not me. I try to block everything and everybody out. I just focus on what I need to do to win."

Johnson has a similar focus in the classroom, where he is an honor-roll student taking several AP classes. He knows his academic skills are just as important as those on the track and the basketball court.

His coach can see that.

"He is a great student, who really works hard in the classroom," Jackson said. "I think he knows that his grades can set him apart as much as his athletic skills."

While Johnson is focused on the regional and state track meet, he also hopes to continue his athletic career in college. Johnson has received early interest and recruiting letters from schools like UNC Asheville and Virginia Tech.

"I'd love to go to a school where I could do both - play basketball and high jumping," Johnson said. "But right now, I am just focused on getting better at everything, whether it's basketball, jumping or in the classroom. I know I need to be even better to get where I want to go."