GARY | Jonvae Johnson is s-o-o-o-o fast, he plays volleyball by himself.
The West Side junior left a trail of smoke at last week's Highland Sectional by figuring in four firsts — the 100 (10.97), 200 (22.13), running second leg on the 400 (42.29) and third leg on the 1,600 relay (3:23.39).
You expect that from a gifted athlete who began track at age 6 and has been a regular at the AAU nationals.
"He can be as good as some of those who have gone on before him," said long-time Cougars' coach Gene Johnson, no relation. "We've had some sprinters who could just flat out run and were blessed with the gift of speed.
"He's blessed also and his work ethic is right on target."
Jonvae spent his first two years at Lake Central, where a meniscus injury hampered his track career. He also plays football for his father, Jason, and is mulling scholarship offers from Ball State, Cincinnati, Eastern Michigan and Toldeo.
This is his first full season of high school track.
"I've never been a big track fan, but having run for so long, it just became a talent I never really knew I had," Jonvae said.
"I'm not afraid of the competition. I just run."
His routine at the starting line never changes.
"I make the sign of the cross and I say to myself: 'Think fast. Think fast.' I keep my head down and then pop out," said Jonvae, whose strength is the middle of the race.
"People tell me I have an unbelievable kick. I don't really notice it but my teammates say I'm jogging. I tell 'em I'm running full speed but they don't believe it."
Jonvae has been beaten only once this season, in Ohio, heading into today's Valparaiso Regional.
His sectional times were personal bests, though he ran the 100 in a hand-held time of 10.68 at Highland.
Talk about dedication. The West Side track has mini-potholes. The scoreboard is faded, as is the football pressbox. The high jump, long jump, shot put, discus and pole vault stations are inferior to suburban schools.
But that doesn't stop Jonvae and teammates from making a full commitment to their track program.
"There have been so many (great athletes) that have come out of West Side and I just want to be in that conversation," Jonvae said.
"Yeah, it is very hard to have pride. West Side has one of the biggest stadiums in Indiana, even if it's torn up and manipulated. But we try our best to put our programs back on the map."
The sectional championship at Highland was the Cougars' first since 1997.
It's a start.