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Johnson shining on the field, in the classroom

When it comes to receiving athletic and scholastic praise, senior Kevin Johnson of the Massachusetts cross-country team is  no stranger to accepting them.

A food science and nutrition major, Kevin currently holds a 4.0 GPA and earned an Atlantic 10 Academic All-Conference Team selection three times. Most recently, Johnson received the 2009-10 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America Men’s Track and Field and Cross Country Third Team honor.

For Johnson, being a successful student athlete has been more rewarding than difficult.

“I don’t consider [classes to be] too much work,” Johnson said. “I see it more as I’m doing what I want to do and what I enjoy doing.”

When it comes to dealing with big tests in season, Johnson said it all comes with the territory.

“High school was the same, it has been that way for about seven years,” Johnson said.

A key element of Johnson’s success has been the support of his coach and teammates.

UMass coach Ken O’Brien has been a strong influence for Johnson, teaching him valuable lessons about running and life.

“Coach O’Brien is great with athlete development,” Johnson said. “His style of coaching develops you as a person as well.”

Keeping a strong focus, working hard and maintaining a balance between work and play are some of the lessons Johnson has learned from O’Brien.

Johnson’s twin brother David, also a member of the cross-country team, has been there to help push Kevin along. The friendly competition between twin brothers exists in running as well as  the classroom. Johnson admitted that it’s nice to have a person around to always compete with and compare himself to, and the competition between them keeps Kevin motivated throughout his college career.

While recognition and admiration for Johnson comes from many different outlets, he believes the most important recognition comes from the people who go through the same experiences as Johnson.

Senior teammate Sean Duncan is still impressed by Johnson after playing together at UMass for the past four years. Duncan said that Johnson does a great job leading by example and he is a great influence on the team.

While the team operates as one big cohesive unit, his teammates are willing to listen to what he has to say and respect his self-discipline.

“When it comes to academics, he puts in a lot of work and takes a lot of pride in it,” Duncan said.

Duncan also said that Johnson’s performance and accolades are as much a factor in UMass’ recruiting as any other.

David said not only does Kevin lead by example, but also keeps tabs on the younger runners. He’s been known to remind his teammates to stay on top of their studies.

For now, Johnson says he plans on sharing everything he has learned at UMass with all of the newcomers. With a team consisting of mostly seniors and freshmen, Johnson said “it is a pivotal year as far as the program is concerned”. The younger guys will have to become leaders much sooner, he added.

On top of everything else, part of his job will be to make sure that happens successfully.

Eric Mansfield can be reached at eamansfi@student.umass.edu.

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