FORT WAYNE – It is categorically untrue that Dean Peterson found Josh Johnson on eBay.
But hes quick to admit this is not your usual college recruiting story, mainly because hes not your usual college head coach. His professional background, after all, was in middle school education. His coaching background was endurance running.
All of which goes absolutely nowhere in explaining how he came to be in Fort Wayne one sweltering day not long ago, talking about how he landed his latest prize for the cycling team at Marian University in Indianapolis.
Thats a great question, Peterson says.
And the answer is, he opened his laptop. Scanned the cycling websites. Sent out texts and emails. Identified Johnson, a mountain bike phenom who was piling up wins against competition far older and more experienced, as exactly what Marian needed to bolster its own mountain-biking and cyclo-cross program.
There were two things about Josh, Peterson says. He was winning Category 1 and Category 2 cyclo-cross races last year, and was constantly in the top 10 or top five and riding at the highest level in the U.S. Grand Prix. Then I started looking into him and saw he had a good mountain bike program.
As for Johnson himself, hed known vaguely about collegiate cycling for a while but had no inkling about Marian – a 15-time national champ – until he fell into a conversation with a teammate this summer on the drive back from a competition in North Carolina. Until then, Johnson, who is home-schooled, had never really thought about collegiate cycling.
But I got more details, and was put in contact with Dean, and after I found out more I got excited about it, he says. It was something where doors just started opening up.
And how did he get those details?
Well, it turns out Marian cycling has its own Facebook page. Also its own Twitter account.
The cycling community in general is very social media oriented, very much on their phones and computers, very tech savvy, Peterson says. So we have a very large following on Facebook, and a large following on Twitter, and we do a lot to try to market the program and get it out on those avenues.
Its not traditional (recruiting) at all. There arent any high schools to go out and sort of search out talent. Honestly, its more about combing results on USA cyclings website, checking out the national championships for juniors.
In Johnsons case, his skills off-road dovetailed precisely with Marians needs. Although the school is a national cycling power on the track – mainly because its training facility is the Major Taylor Velodrome in Indianapolis, which Marian operates – it didnt win its first road national title until two years ago, and lagged in mountain biking and cyclo-cross.
Its a weak area for us, says Peterson, whos been riding for 27 years, and has been the head cycling coach at Marian since 2006. We compete with Fort Lewis, great school, great cycling program in Durango, Colo. And they walk out the door and theyre doing these incredible mountain trails.
Its harder for us to create that environment here. We do have good trails here, but its just not been a focus because its not been as readily accessible as the track.
And so Johnson, who as far as anyone knows is the first northeast Indiana cyclist to go to college on a cycling scholarship, will compete initially in mountain bike and cyclo-cross, but not on the track. Which is OK with him.
I cant wait, he says. Knowing I was going there since June, or at least was heavily considering it, I was able to talk with (other Marian cyclists) who were going to races, and to build relationships a little bit more. A lot of the guys Ive known, or at least known of them, for a little while.