SE: The Relationship — Johnson Builds K-State Bond Worldwide

Vincent Johnson has uttered a phrase to prospective Kansas State track and field recruits. The phrase, whether it’s said in Europe, Jamaica, Canada or the United States, has slightly different versions. The intention, however, remains the same with each. 


“Every day is a great day to be a Wildcat,” Johnson, an assistant track and field coach at K-State, said of what he tells all of his recruits. Other versions include: “Have a Wildcat morning, a Wildcat day or a Wildcat night.” 


The words, in a sense, encompass Johnson’s main recruiting pitch. While he can’t ensure national championships and Olympic marks, Johnson makes one promise to all of his recruits. 


“One thing I try to sell, not just to the kids but to the parents as well, is I’m going to take really good care of them,” he said. “Because ultimately I won’t determine how successful someone is, but what I can determine is I’m willing to take care of them.”


In a nutshell, Johnson is selling to recruits “the relationship” they will have with K-State’s coaches across the board. His recruiting arsenal is full of other selling points too. 


“I sell everything,” he said, from “the people working facilities all the way up to (K-State Athletics Director) John Currie,” who he describes to recruits as the “greatest AD in the country.” 


Johnson’s methods have paid off in the form of signing standout performers such as Shadae and Shardia Lawrence, Kim Williamson and Akela Jones, to name a few. 


“He built a relationship with my mom, and everyone in the family knew Coach Johnson,” said Shadae Lawrence, a Jamaican discus thrower who qualified for the upcoming Olympics after her freshman season at K-State. “He builds a relationship with the family, not just the athletes. That’s what I like about him. My family trusted him.”


She can also vouch for hearing Johnson’s thematic phrase. 


“Before I even started coming here, and I knew that I got cleared, I said, ‘I hope K-State is ready for me. It’s a great day to be a Wildcat,’” Lawrence recalled. 


On top of creating early trust, Lawrence said Johnson’s ability to find overlooked athletes is unique. 


“He doesn’t look at winners only. He looks at potential, looks at what you lack and if you get this, what can really be done,” she said. “That’s what I really like about him, he doesn’t really go for the best. He aims at developing athletes.”


The bond and trust built with athletes before they step foot on campus sets the table for their future success, Johnson said. 


“If you can go into a competition and you understand and know that you have people that are at bat for you and really care about you, then the chances of you performing at your best, I think, goes up,” he said. “Obviously, training has a lot to do with the performances as well, but to know that people care about you is very, very important.”


What is important to him is seeing the athletes he recruited succeed. Whether it is Lawrence breaking out for an Olympic bid or watching a former recruit walk across the stage as a K-State graduate, Johnson said witnessing the growth of student-athletes is a rewarding experience. 


“Some of the things you talked about in recruiting can actually happen,” Johnson said. “When you can walk away with that degree, when you mature into a young man or a young woman and I see you making better decisions and, obviously, having more success on the track, it’s very rewarding.”


Johnson’s recruiting experience dates back to his time coaching a club team in Texas, where he had one rule when accepting a new member. 


“I didn’t let someone join my team unless I sat down and had a visit with their parents,” he said, crediting that time for preparing him for his current job. 


The process of recruiting a track and field athlete, he said, begins with keeping tabs of athletes’ marks online. From there, the staff determines whether the athlete would fit well at K-State. If so, contact is made and the creation of “the relationship” begins. 


“If you treat people well all the time or you try to do your best by people, then it’s easier to gain a rapport with them,” he said, entering his sixth year at K-State. “If you didn’t understand the humble beginnings, then it’s very difficult to reconnect with people once you’re in a position to recruit their kids.”

  

From start to finish, K-State’s recruiting pool — the total number of athletes it looks into — isn’t as large as most, Johnson said. Like everything else, there is a reason for this. 


“I go from the standpoint of, if I can invest a lot of time and energy in a few people, then I think our chances increase because I’m trying to sell the relationship,” he said, then pointing to the bigger picture. “I try to do what can help us be successful. I don’t mind going anywhere. I don’t mind talking to anyone about anything. I try to do my best to help Kansas State and our program be successful. Wherever that is, it’s not about me, it’s about Kansas State having a chance to be as good as we can be.”


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