Brandeé taking talents to Florida

Published 9:42 pm Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Nansemond River High School senior Brandee’ Johnson signs, accepting a full athletic scholarship to the University of Florida.

Nansemond River High School senior Brandee’ Johnson signs, accepting a full athletic scholarship to the University of Florida.

The saying goes, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

But Brandee’ Johnson has provided a powerful example of what happens when talent does work hard.

The Nansemond River High School senior track and field star’s hard work has paved a road featuring a myriad of amazing accomplishments along the way that have established her as an all-time great athlete in Virginia.

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Now, the road turns south to the Sunshine State, featuring a full athletic scholarship to an NCAA Division I school as the latest milestone she has earned.

In front of a large crowd of supporters attending her recent signing ceremony at Nansemond River, Johnson announced she would be competing at the next level for the University of Florida.

“It was a long process, and I know it was very, very stressful trying to pick down schools and then trying to figure out what three schools were my top three to take visits, and then slowly coming down to my decision,” she said. “But I was excited all day today knowing that this day was coming, and then knowing that I was going to be a Gator.”

Johnson’s mother, Toy Redding, said that her daughter’s signing “means that all the hard work that she put in, that (Nansemond River) coach (Justin) B(yron) put in, that me and my husband, the long hours, the early mornings, the long trips, and still working, it means a lot to actually sign a letter and to know that the next four years, she’s going to be running.”

Johnson first started participating in track and field when she was in sixth grade, and she first realized she had a special ability in the sport when, as a seventh-grader, she won the 100- and 200-meter dashes at a Junior Olympics at Norfolk State University.

“I was like, ‘This is something I want to keep doing,’” she recalled. “And then I kept with it, and I knew that hard work was going to keep me there.”

She noted that as soon as she got into high school, she knew she wanted to keep competing for as long as she could, and she knew college was a goal.

“I remember in freshman year, I sat my parents down and Coach B, and I told them I wanted to get a full ride to a college of my choice,” Johnson said.

She put in the work to make that a reality.

Johnson has won two national titles and earned 12 New Balance All-American honors. She has won 15 state titles, including 12 in individual events, and she has finished in the top-eight of state-level events 28 times.

“At this point, she has to be considered as one of the best athletes to ever come out of Virginia,” Byron said. “She holds five Virginia state records, and she’s on track to maybe get at least one more, maybe another three.”

Johnson weighed impressive options during the college selection process, including Louisiana State University and the University of Kentucky.

“And then I was considering (University of) Oregon for a little bit, but they had come a little late into the process, and trying to take a visit and push everything back, it was just a lot going on, and my heart went to Florida, so I stuck with my heart, and I’ll be happy there,” she said.

What drew her heart to Florida, which was her first visit, was the coaches and the atmosphere.

“The coaches kept steady contact, and they made sure that if I had any questions, I could call them anytime,” Johnson said.

Known for her sprinting, Johnson is getting recruited as a hurdler, “which is interesting, because that’s what she’s been doing the least amount of time,” Byron said, noting it has been only for the last two and a half years.

But her titles and records in that time span speak for themselves, and Byron said, “I think that she’s going to be a dynamic hurdler on the next level.”

Johnson’s signing was particularly significant for Byron, who has looked at Brandee’ as family.

“Out of all the athletes at Nansemond River, I’ve been working with her the longest, and so, it’s one of those bittersweet things where you’re losing a daughter, but you know that you’re sending them off to the world prepared,” he said. “It’s like you’re hurt that she’s gone, but you’re happy to know that she’s going on to better things.”

Johnson plans to major in fitness science and minor in massage therapy, aiming to be a personal trainer.