Former Huntington Athletes Allege Pattern Of Abuse By Coach

* An entranceway to Huntington University, a private, liberal arts Christian University in Indiana

Photo Credit: Indianapolis Star

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A 33-page federal civil lawsuit lodged by two former Huntington University runners, to go along with a damning Indianapolis Star investigation published on Tuesday, has revealed alleged crimes, Title IX violations, and systemic abuses by a former collegiate cross-country coach once employed by the university, which held a nationally-relevant NAIA cross country and track and field program. 

On Friday, former Huntington University athletes Emma Wilson and Hannah Stoffel -- the latter a national NAIA champion in 2021 -- and their lawyers issued a civil case in the Northern District of Indiana against former coach Nicholas Johnson, who in 2020 pled guilty to a felony charge of identity deception involving a child. 

Two charges of child seduction and kidnapping were dropped at that time and Johnson spent 30 days in jail before being released and put on electronic monitoring, the Indy Star reported

Friday's lawsuit, along with the investigation by the Indy Star's David Woods -- who spoke with four former Huntington athletes and over 20 sources close to athletes and the program -- revealed a pattern of manipulation, abuse, doping and criminal conduct by Johnson before that conviction, including: 

  • Emotional manipulation by a trusted coach;
  • Physical abuses in the form of unwanted massages
  • Sexual assault by a person in power;
  • Negligence by two current coaches;
  • and forcible injections of unknown substances

The civil complaint levied on Friday, Sept. 30, summarized Johnson as someone who performed "Larry Nassar-esque massages" and acted like "Lance Armstrong's Tour de France pharmacist" and who, even after he was fired in 2020, "continued to and still provides workouts to the runners at Huntington University." 

Johnson's wife, former professional runner Lauren Johnson -- formerly employed as the head coach of cross country at Huntington University; on Thursday, she was put on administrative leave and two new interim coaches were named within the program -- along with assistant coach Curtis Hines were also named in the complaint. 

The civil case accuses Huntington University of knowingly hiring Johnson and his wife, despite publicly held knowledge that both were once under suspicion of doping violations with the Oregon Track Club before their dismissals from the club -- Lauren as an athlete, Nicholas as a coach -- in 2015. 

The case also alleges that Johnson had "sexual contact" with "multiple students on the Huntington University cross country and track and field teams," including Stoffel, the plaintiff, and that he "raped (Hannah Stoffel) on several occasions from July 2020 through November 2020." 

Along with accusations of emotional manipulation and sexual assault, the civil case details a pattern of doping violations, which were conducted under the guise of an "experiment," which was "endorsed by Nike and Huntington University's athletic director, Dr. Lori Culler." 

Both Wilson and Stoffel revealed personal details while speaking to the Star and in the civil complaint and "Both now question the validity of their success because of doping concerns," the Indy Star reported

"Why didn't I run away," Stoffel told David Woods," I was terrified. No, he didn't have a gun to my temple or a knife to my throat. Instead, he explicitly threatened my future. The threat of death woudl have been better. I wanted to be dead." 

Stoffel left Huntington University in 2020 and enrolled at Indiana University, where she finished out her collegiate career for the Hoosiers. Wilson left Huntington in 2021 and later transferred to two programs before giving up running all together, she told the Indy Star. 

"That was kind of it for me," Wilson told Woods. "The whole system to me seems broken right now. I think there's a lot of abuse of power by coaches."