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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sports

Freshmen sprinters echo upperclassmen’s speed


Freshman Joe Williams, center, won two state titles and the Texas Relays 100m as a high school senior. Now with the Cougars, he is already one of the top sprinters in the conference. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

Lately, the track & field team has been about all things fast. But while “HTown Speed City,” as the sprinters have dubbed the squad, is focused on immediate success on the track, they are also preparing for the future.

Freshmen sprinters Joe Williams and Nick Alexander are just the latest in an ever-growing talent pool of sprinters collected by head coach Leroy Burrell. Even with only a month of competition under their spikes, their presence on the team has already been felt. Williams and Alexander have top ten times in both the 60m and 200m in the American Athletic Conference.

“It’s exciting,” said junior sprinter John Lewis III when asked about the freshmen’s early success. “Carl (Lewis)’s recruiting the best, and when they get here and perform like the best, then I know we’ll have a bright future here at UH even when my class is gone.”

High school speedsters

Both sprinters were highly recruited during their successful high school track careers.

Despite attending Bremond High School, a UIL-classified 2A school, one of the smallest in Texas high school athletics, Williams still had great success athletically. The small town native won state titles in both the 100m and 200m sprints his senior year. Williams had already won the 100m title his junior year.

Williams also won the Boys D1 100m final at the 2017 Texas Relays, one of the most prominent track & field meets in the country.

Alexander, who hails from outside Dallas, ran for the Mustangs of Sachse High School, a much larger UIL 6A school. While Alexander did not win a state title, he did graduate as the school record holder in the 200m (20.98s).

Joining an elite club

Their success saw both sprinters get recruited by schools like Texas Tech and Alabama, the No. 2 and No. 5 teams in the country, among others. Ultimately it was coach Burrell and the Cougars who got their commitment. Williams said the chance to get coached by him and assistant coach Carl Lewis seemed like the best possible choice, an opinion not uncommon on the track & field roster.

“I’m a big believer in iron sharpens iron,” Alexander said. “A lot of the sprinters that they (have) here like Eli (Hall), Cam (Burrell), Mario (Burke), they’re some of the top guys in the country. So to compete against them every day in practice is only going to make me better.”

Three years ago, the men’s track & field team had the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation with many talented sprinters. Those same athletes are now juniors and have taken on the role of mentor to these freshmen.

Junior sprinter and NCAA First Team All-American Mario Burke was paired with Williams in their offseason workouts. Lewis told Burke that he saw similarities between Burke and Williams — mainly their strength and speed — hence their pairing.

“I call Joe my little brother, my son,” Burke said. “From the time I was working with him I saw that he’s got a lot of potential and he’ll make it far. Nick has a great work ethic, he works hard, he never complains and he’s got the tools to be successful.”

The collegiate level

Both Williams and Alexander had little, if any, experience in the 60m when they arrived at UH. But both have become two of the top runners for the Cougars in the event. One or the other has ran in every meet since the season opener, the Reveille Invitational on Dec. 9.

Their times of 6.77s and 6.79s respectively are No. 5 and No. 6 in the conference. Only Burke and senior sprinter Elijah Hall rank above them from the Cougars.

In addition, Alexander and Williams have the No. 7 and No. 9 conference times in the 200m, running 21.63s and 21.68s respectively.

At least four Cougars were in the final for either race at the conference championships last year. With the way Williams and Alexander are running right now, they have a chance to do so again.

Considering they are running almost the exact same times that Burke was running as a freshman, it makes sense that he believes they can surpass his time to become the best class that ever came through the University.

“We’re going to keep the tradition going,” Alexander said. “Nothing’s going to be given to you, but as long as you work hard it’s going to pay off. HTown Speed City, we’re going to live on together.”

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