Talk about a grand entrance ...

Reece Johnson transferred to Benton from Neoga this summer and quickly made a name for himself, winning both the West Frankfort Regional and Benton Sectional.

For his efforts, he has been named the Southern Illinoisan Boys Cross-Country Runner of the Year.

Johnson had no problem finding success with Benton’s cross-country program under coach Brent McLain. He earned all-state honors at the boys’ state cross-country meet, placing 23rd overall in Class 1A and helping Benton finish 12th as a team.

Johnson came to Benton with a running background after spending his first two years of high school on Neoga’s cross-country team. The junior first got interested in running through his junior high coach and the connection they built.

“Most importantly, I just want to give God all the glory,” said Johnson. “He brought our family to Benton for a reason and it’s been a very special year with this team.”

Johnson packed his bags and headed for Benton after his father was hired as Benton High School’s superintendent.

The connection truly began when he found out who his coach would be.

“My dad brought me to Benton’s high school to visit and showed me this poster of coach McLain,” said Johnson. I didn’t know what to expect on my first day until I realized he would be my cross-country coach.”

Benton’s cross-country success is well documented and Johnson drew a lot of appreciation for the program through coach McLain and his daughter Mia, an all-state runner in her own right.

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“Coach McLain and Mia have built something special in Benton,” said Johnson. “One of their biggest things is preparation. I fully found that out when coach started handing out itineraries for the upcoming practice week. I’d never seen anything like it before.”

Mia McLain thinks that Johnson is just cracking the surface as a runner with Benton’s running program.

“Reece did really well for this being his first year at Benton,” said McLain. “He was doing his own individual workouts when he started out and I think that helped him push himself. We all had the mentality of working to be a better team, but also ourselves in the process.”

With any student joining a new school, there’s always the thought of not knowing anyone. Johnson said coach McLain was the first person to text him in the summer. That led to Johnson becoming friends with senior Brady Gischer on the cross-country team.

“Everything he did was so professional,” said Johnson. “It almost feels like having a college coach…he just does everything the right way.”

The next step for Johnson in his junior year is basketball season. Johnson played basketball his first two years, but Neoga is a smaller school than Benton.

“I’d say basketball is probably my favorite sport to actually play,” said Johnson. “I’m looking to accomplish things with basketball just like I did with cross-country. I came into the year wanting a medal and with the help of coach McLain I accomplished that.”

Johnson has plenty of time to enjoy basketball before next season’s cross-country practices begin in late August.

Improving as an all-around athlete is one of the many goals Johnson has set for himself. Getting into a good college down the road is another one, but for now it’s all about enjoying the rest of junior year.

“This has been a really fun experience and the cross-country team is a very close group that stays locked in all year,” said Johnson. “I could tell you how hard I work individually, but it’s all about the team and how hard we work moving forward.”

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