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Out-of-state transfer takes California tracks by storm
Weston Ranch Highs John McDonald is the Manteca Bulletin 2013 All-Area Male Track and Field Athlete of the Year. - photo by CHRIS LEONARD/Leonard


• Carl Chandler, Manteca sophomore (jumps): VOL runner-up in the triple jump set a personal record (43-6) while placing second at the SJS Division IV/V Meet. Took eighth at the SJS Masters.
• Daniel Clemons, Manteca senior (throws): Set a lifetime best record in the VOL meet with a winning toss of 49-3 ¾. Finished second in Division IV/V and 16th at the Masters Meet.
• Emmanuel Elijah, Sierra senior (sprints): Led the T’Wolves to a second-place finish in Division IV after winning the 100, taking second in the 200 and helping the 4x100 set a new meet record.
• Phillip Herrera, Manteca senior (distance): The area’s lone double-winner in individual events (800, mile) at the SJS Division IV/V Meet peaked at Masters with a PR and seventh-place time of 4:19.40.
• Onix Paredes, Sierra junior (pole vault): An impressive 16-foot vault made Paredes an early favorite to qualify for state. Earned the VOL title, a No. 2 finish at divisionals and placed 13th at Masters.

— Jonamar Jacinto

Born in Oakland and raised in Texas, John McDonald considers himself “a Texas guy.”

But when the opportunity to return to Northern California arose, the Weston Ranch sophomore was all for it.

“My mom wanted to be closer to her sisters, but at the same time I wanted to pursue my dream as a track athlete,” said McDonald, who transferred last August. “I’ve been watching track all my life, and where I was at I didn’t feel like I could get the exposure I need to be a real track athlete. I wanted to pursue more opportunities out here in California.”

If he builds on what he did in the 95th Annual CIF State Track & Field Championships, it won’t be too long before college coaches begin pursuing him. McDonald went from “that guy from Texas” to arguably the biggest breakthrough star in the area as fast as he sprints the straightaway. He placed at the state meet in two of the sport’s glamour events and is the Bulletin’s runaway choice as its All-Area Male Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

Going back to Cali, it turns out, is already paying dividends.

“My journey is just now starting,” he said. “Much more is to come.”

He has already come a long way.

McDonald didn’t lose a race in VOL duals and won eight times (four in each event) in invitational-style meets, including the VOL Championships and SJS Division IV/V Finals. It was at divisionals that he lost to a VOL opponent for the first time, but Sierra senior Emmanuel Elijah was a worthy adversary. The divisional 200 crown belonged to McDonald, who is stronger in that event. In the SJS Masters Preliminaries, Elijah recorded the second fastest 100 time, but opted to skip the finale for graduation.

McDonald began his sudden rise in Elk Grove, where the SJS Masters meet was held. He was the final state qualifier in both events, taking third in personal record times (10.87, 21.77) behind two standout seniors who were defending section titlists — two-time section 100-meter champion Austin Mitsch of Jesuit and Antelope’s Robert Ellis, the SJS’s two-time winner in the 200.

“The first day of the section meet I had a lot of jitters,” McDonald said. “All throughout the season it seemed like I was seeing the same people every week, mainly athletes from the VOL. But at Masters there were different people from places I never heard of. My coaches told me not to worry about it and just run my race, and that’s what I went out there and did.”

It took running with the best to bring the best out of McDonald.

Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) senior Khalfani Muammad, a Cal signee for football, was the nation’s top sprinter. Sophomore Myles Valentine (Upland), Elijah Mitchell (East Roosevelt) and Morgan Simon (Loyola) were also part of this star-studded field of finalists who turned in some of the nation’s top 10 fastest wind-legal times.

Then there was McDonald, seeded No. 21 in the 100 and 14th in the 200. With only nine spots available for the finals, he theoretically wasn’t supposed to have a chance.

“I was coming in with some slow times but just kept pushing all season long,” McDonald said. “Coach (Darrell Johnson Jr.) knew something big was going to come, and I had the same feeling the night before the state trials. It’s just a whole different level of competition on a bigger stage. That was my motivation to shine.”

That he did. With sprints lasting 10.62 and 21.32 seconds, he qualified for the state finals with the fifth and fourth fastest times, respectively, while setting lifetime records for the second week in a row. He ended up earning medals for a placing fifth in the 100 (10.66) and fourth in the 200 (21.42) in the finals. McDonald didn’t set personal records in the finals, but he proved that what he achieved the night before was no fluke.

“That’s exactly why I came (to California). I had to see something like that,” McDonald said of the competition. “I loved running against them.”

Next year, he hopes to have someone to run with.

Just the second Cougar to qualify for the state meet, McDonald aims to bring prestige to the school with the sport. He doesn’t want for it to be all about him.

“There is too much talent at our school for us to not be a competitive track team,” McDonald said. “Hopefully I won’t be the only one at the state track meet next time. I want to bring some teammates with me.”