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Ellender track standout signs with SLU

Ellender's Netikie Johnson signed a national letter-of-intent to run track at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. (Photo by Brent St. Germain/Staff)

Ellender's Netikie Johnson was faced with a difficult decision following her junior season in 2012.

As a standout runner and basketball player for the Lady Patriots, Johnson had to decide if it was in her best interest to play two sports her senior year or limit herself to one.

After much deliberation, Johnson decided to stop playing basketball and turn all of her attention to track. It was tough decision after Johnson was named to the first-team District 8-4A and was a Class 4A honorable mention player following her junior season.

But Johnson's decision paid off and she made a return trip to the Louisiana High School Athletic Association's Class 4A state track meet.

It also paid off in a bigger way with a college scholarship. On Thursday, Johnson signed a national letter-of-intent to run track at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.

"After my junior year, I had to make the tough decision to stop playing basketball," she said. "I had to look at my options and what I would be better at — track or basketball. I went with track because I had a better chance at a scholarship, and it paid off with an offer from Southeastern."

Getting a chance to compete at the collegiate level is a dream come true for Johnson.

"This is something I've been wanting since I was little," she said. "I'm exciting for the chance to compete at the next level."

Johnson's father, Thomas Johnson Sr., said his daughter has worked hard since the age of 7 to excel on the track. As a member of the AAU track team Houma Jets, which is coached by Johnson Sr., she set many Louisiana records and won national titles in the 400-meter dash as a 9-year-old and 200-meter dash as a 10-year-old.

"I'm elated to see her have this opportunity," Johnson Sr. said. "She has put a lot of work in and really worked hard throughout the years. She started this when she was 7 and won a couple of national championships along the way."

Netikie will not be alone at Southeastern. She is the fifth local track athlete to sign with the school. Others signing with Southeastern were H.L. Bourgeois' Vanessa Williams and Raven Scott, Ellender's Brian Verdin and Terrebonne's Julian Maze.

In addition to having familiar faces on the track team, Netikie said she also has several family members living in the Hammond area.

Johnson Sr. said he understands the emotions a high school athlete feels after getting an opportunity to compete on the collegiate level. He is a former track athlete and football player at Louisiana-Lafayette (then Southwestern Louisiana).

"I know what it means for her as an athlete," he said. "It's very, very special to me as her dad and a coach to see her have that opportunity. She will get the opportunity to reap the benefits of all the hard work she has put in over the years."

While she has worked hard to achieve this goal, Netikie said she did not do it alone.

"I could do achieve this without the support from my coaches and family," she said. "Without them, I would not have seen the different level of competition that I needed to get to the next level. That all helped me become a better athlete, and it will help me at Southeastern."