FARMINGTON — After helping lead Piedra Vista to its first state team track and field title in school history, Zach Johnson will continue racing at the Division I level.
Johnson has committed to run track for the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"They have a pretty good track program in the Mountain West, and I'll be running against a lot of my friends at (University of New Mexico)," he said.
At the state track and field meet in May, Johnson won three individual state titles for the Panthers, the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes and 4x100-meter relay. His time of 21.53 seconds in the 200-meter dash at the meet set the 4A state record.
The Air Force Academy, which has won the last two Mountain West Conference men's track and field team titles, is looking for Johnson to contribute immediately in the sprint events.
"We're really excited he's going to be here. With the times he's run, he'll hopefully help us right off the bat," said Air Force assistant coach Scott Steffan.
Johnson considered attending quite a few schools, including the University of New Mexico, University of Tulsa, University of Portland and Colorado School of Mines, but deciding that the Air Force Academy was the best option academically.
"Financially, you can't beat it. I just feel it will prepare me for the future. I'll graduate with no debt and a job guaranteed," he said. "I might not be having as much fun as other college kids, but it will be a better experience as far as building character."
The Academy has one of the lowest acceptance rates in the country -- about 11 percent -- and Johnson had to receive nominations from U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján to be admitted into the program.
Johnson believes that the academics at Piedra Vista, along with the coaching he received during his high school track career, helped to set him apart from other candidates.
"Academically, our AP program is one of the top in the state," he said. "And I'm really grateful to my coaches -- coach (Ric) Romero, coach (Jared) Howell, coach (Mark) Turner. We work well together."
Johnson, who left for school on June 25, can't wait to continue running and is looking forward to squaring off against stronger competition.
"I'm definitely excited, and I'm sure it will be more challenging than the high school level," he said. "There are some fast kids in high school, but at the D1 level, everyone is smoking."
Joshua Perry covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jperrysuu.