COVINGTON, Ga. -- If you see Maurice Johnson running with a frown on his face, don’t get the wrong impression that he’s a mean, unapproachable guy.
That’s his game face. His track face, if you will.
It comes out when he’s rounding the curve while anchoring Alcovy’s 4x400 relay team, or when he’s flying down the homestretch on a 400 meter dash, trying to keep distance between himself and whomever else may be trying to rob him of first place.
But in between races and after Johnson steps of the track, the smile comes. Followed by laughter — not just his, but anyone who’s within earshot of the senior sprinter.
Johnson fashions himself as the life of the party. The class clown on the track. It’s all apart of his penchant for using the sport as a type of personal therapy — both for others and himself.
“He’s a ball of energy,” Alcovy track and field coach Ricardo Branch said. “At practice when everybody’s down, he’s the one that’s helping push everyone. Maurice is always making somebody laugh even when you don’t feel like doing it. And even some days he doesn’t feel like doing it.”
Those days probably occur a little more than Johnson would like. But since he’s learned how to use the sport he loves to curtail the bad days, he’s seen the good that can come out of it.
“The energy Coach talks about comes from a lot of pain,” Johnson said. “I just try not to let it affect me negatively. Instead of me being mad, I’ve learned how to channel my anger and energy to try and help somebody else be happy. Putting a smile on somebody’s face can change your life.”
But Johnson said he does his best running with the frown.
“I’ve got some anger issues,” he acknowledges. “I’ve allowed it to build sort of a deep hole between me and my father. But now I’m learning how to, instead of taking anger out on him, I’m learning to stay quite and keep to myself and use that energy on the track. I always run better when I’m mad. Instead of yelling and fussing, running mad makes me run faster.”
Johnson said he found that out earlier this season at the Rome Invitational. That’s where he clocked 51.8 seconds in the 400 — a personal record for him. That time was preceded by him seeing his sister Breonna, a freshman track athlete at Alcovy, almost begin to cry as she was running.
“I don’t know,” Johnson said. “When I saw that, it made something click in my head. I didn’t like her being upset. So I took that feeling out on the track. That’s how I got that first PR. Really, running mad is how I got all my PRs.”
It’s also helped him accumulate about a dozen track scholarship offers, including several from Division I schools such as South Carolina, South Carolina State, Alcorn State, Albany State and Jackson State, with strong interest coming from the likes of Clemson.
On Wednesday Johnson will choose not to wait for anymore big offers and will sign with Alcorn State.
“At first I wasn’t really sure about it because it was so far from home,” he said. “But then I took into consideration the fact that they showed me more ambition and drive that they wanted me.”
He also loved the fact that Alcorn State, being a Historically Black College and University, held a highly respected heritage that he wants to ascribe his name to.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things about their business program,” he added. “But a lot of prestigious people went there, such as (Civil Rights icon) Medgar Evers. That’s really what attracted me to the school.”
As far as what keeps him attracted to the track, you didn’t need to look any further than up in the stands at Heritage High School during the conclusion of the annual NewRock track meet close to two weeks ago.
It was in those stands where his father stood, watching intently as Maurice and his sister competed.
By hearing Johnson talk about his father’s presence at the track that this sport was about much more for him than personal records, winning gold medals or even college recruiting attention.
“When he’s here watching me, it makes me want to do my best,” Johnson said. “My dad helped me with these scholarship offers. He pushed me. We never connected like this before. He’s a football dude, and I tried other sports like football, but it didn’t work. But here at the track, he sees I love it, so he tries to relate.
“I talk to him more. We spend more time together. It’s a good connection, so that’s what we do.”
No wonder why the Alcovy senior has a lot more to smile about these days — not to mention more ammunition to get his teammates and anyone he meets, really, to invert their frowns.
“The best part of all of this for me, is not the medals and all that, but just to be out here and help make somebody laugh,” he said. “To make someone feel like you’re really changing their lives. The feeling of you changing somebody’s life can go a long way, and it can really help you carry your name on. That’s how I want to use this opportunity.”