JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Science Hill senior Owen Johnson hadn’t really considered running as a sport until he got to seventh grade.

“All my friends were doing it and I just wanted to hang out with my friends and spend some extra time with them,” he said.

It was a compelling reason to pick up cross country. But, this Hilltopper soon found out what this sport had to offer.

“It’s just relaxing to go out there and run,” he said. “It’s a nice getaway from all my school and everything else going on.”

Although, as former soccer player, he found steep hills a little less relaxing.

“Those flat courses I could do,” he said. “Anytime I got on the hill – I got destroyed. So, I had to work on that.”

And work he did, not only on his speed in the 5k race, but his strategy, as well.

“It’s like a mental game with yourself and other people that you’re playing against – to know when to go, when to stay back,” he explained.

It’s much easier to work on your craft when you’re surrounded by teammates who have become something more.

“Oh, it’s great,” he said. “It’s just like one big family.”

It’s a family that wants to compete again on the biggest stage in 2023.

“I definitely want to make it to state as a team,” he said. “Last year we didn’t get that opportunity.”

The dream of state doesn’t completely fade if it doesn’t happen this fall, as Johnson will continue to run the 400 and 800-meter races for the Toppers’ outdoor track squad. It’s something he’s done since sophomore year.

“It’s really different,” he said. “The training, it’s a lot faster, but I love it. I get to be with both sprint and distance.”

For Johnson, it’s the best of both worlds. He admits those shorter races can be trickier for him, although there is one clear upside.

“Your races are a half-mile, mile, 400 meters,” he said. “It’s great. It makes me feel so much faster.”

Whether on the track or the course, Johnson is hungry to compete at the collegiate level after he graduates in the spring. Whoever picks him up is getting an athlete who cares about more than just his times.

“Definitely leadership,” he said. “It takes a lot to get the team together and make sure everyone is hanging out and having fun – but still having that aspect where we can go train and work hard.”