Johnny Landa had an important decision to make heading into his junior year at Moffat County High School in 2010.
Torn between two sports, both of which he was good at, Landa said he enjoyed playing soccer and competing in long-distance running.
Landa could have stayed with soccer, a sport he has been playing since he was 5 years old in Craig Parks and Recreation leagues, or concentrate on his distance running career in cross-country.
After talking to MCHS soccer coach Rusty Cox and MCHS cross-country and track coach Todd Trapp, Landa decided to compete in both.
Now a senior and in his second year of being a two-sport athlete during the fall, Landa said he is glad he chose both sports.
“I have been playing soccer almost my whole life and I wanted to continue,” he said. “After having success in distance during track, Trapp asked me to do cross-country my junior year. He knew soccer was my priority, but he said I could help myself and the team.”
Trapp said he knew Landa’s main priority was soccer, so they made an agreement.
“He agreed to come to cross-country practice two days a week and when our meets didn’t interfere with soccer games, he would come to those,” he said. “He is a talented kid and I thought he could help both sports.”
The first year worked out well for Landa.
The MCHS boys cross-country team won a second straight regional title in 2010, with Landa finishing 17th.
At the state meet, Landa was the fourth Bulldog to cross the finish line, recording a time of 18 minutes and 33 seconds.
On the soccer field, Landa helped the Bulldogs have their best season ever, with an overall record of 11-5, 7-3 in the Western Slope League, and a trip to the 4A state playoffs.
Landa said two sports can be strenuous, but both Cox and Trapp understand.
“If I am practicing cross-country right after school, I still show up to soccer practice in the evening,” he said. “Rusty understands that. He knows I am still working out, so he won’t work me quite as hard, but still make sure I work.”
Of the two sports, Landa said cross-country is definitely harder because it is nonstop.
“No matter how tired you are or how hard it is, you can’t stop running in cross-country,” he said. “In soccer, there are moments where you can take a little break and catch you breath, but in cross-country you have to go no matter what.”
Still, soccer provides something cross-country doesn’t for Landa — an adrenaline rush.
“To score a goal in soccer, it takes everybody working and passing together to get there, and still there is so much pressure on the guy kicking the ball,” he said. “When you actually score, it is like you accomplished something huge and it is just so exciting.”
Trapp said the main reason he wanted Landa to run cross-country was so he could help the team.
“In cross-country, you want tough guys who can push other guys on the team,” he said. “Being from a small school, we have to get who we can, and Johnny is one of those guys. He provides more competition for his teammates and makes other guys run better.”
Besides doing two sports he enjoys, Landa said each sport helps in the other.
“In soccer you are always running and hustling, so by running cross-country, I am one of the guys who can keep running after the ball,” he said. “And on the other hand, at the end of a cross-country meet, you want to be able to sprint the last 400 meters or so, and soccer helps me with my quickness.”
In his second year, Landa is making even bigger strides.
He scored the first goal of the season for the soccer team and has helped his teammates stay in the thick of the WSL standings.
Landa has also been able to compete in more cross-country meets this year, taking 18th at pre-state Sept. 2 and 10th at the Liberty Bell Invitational on Sept. 16.
Despite soccer being his first love, however, Landa said ultimately he expects cross-country to be his ticket to the next level.
“I am alright at soccer, but not the best player and I know that,” he said. “I may try out for a soccer team wherever I end up, but I am good at cross-country and track and I think I will probably go to college for those sports.”
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