It’s not often a two-season sample size sparks conversation about the best hurdler to come out of Florida.
Northeast junior star Damion Thomas Jr., however, is building a résumé that invites comparisons to the best ever.
A year after setting a national freshman record (14.05 seconds) in the 110 high hurdles, Thomas came back to clock 13.64 — a record in the 15-year-old age group and just one-hundredth off the sophomore class national record of 13.63. Thomas later clocked 13.62 to win the Brooks PR Invitational, but it was wind-aided.
Much to the chagrin of his competition, Thomas, who won silver at state as a freshman and gold last season, appears to be just scratching the surface.
“Setting the national freshman record was really the spark I needed to persevere and push to this point.” Thomas said. “It means I can never stop my drive. I take track more seriously now. It’s really fun being invited to big meets and being the headliner now and then.”
Thomas carries that humble star aura about him that should serve him well in a season he will undoubtedly receive unprecedented national coverage.
Thomas will compete for Jamaica at the Carifta Games trials in March, which should give him as good a challenge he will face at any national meet this season. Suiting up for Jamaica has been a dream come true for Thomas, who gained dual citizenship recently.
“It’s going to be real enjoyable; it will feel like a new type of love running for Jamaica,” Thomas said. “Once I throw on that uniform, I will own it. My family is very excited. I am really looking forward to the competition.”
Thomas will be seeking redemption on the international stage after a heart-breaking injury at the 2015 World Youth Trials last June. Thomas was considered a lock to qualify as the United States’ No. 4-ranked hurdler but faltered on the second to last hurdle and failed to qualify after finishing third in his heat (14.63).
Thomas returns with the top wind-legal time in the nation and probably would have been pushed by St. Thomas Aquinas’ Trevon Grimes, who like Thomas was the only hurdler to break 14 seconds. But it appears that Grimes, a top football prospect, will forgo track to focus exclusively on the gridiron this season.
Whomever lines up against Thomas will have to run the perfect race just to be within striking distance at the end.
If textbook technique and a relentless work ethic aren’t enough, Thomas owns an uncanny gift to maintain his composure in stressful situations.
Although other hurdlers might get unnerved by opponents cutting into their lane, getting disqualified after false starts or having a poor start out of the blocks, Thomas locks in mentally even harder.
Damion Thomas Sr., who along with his wife, Duchane, helped develop current LSU star Daeshon Gordon into a four-time individual state champion hurdler, said keeping composure under duress was a trademark his son showed early in his career by winning the state 100-meter hurdles middle school title.
“Damion is a competitor; he doesn’t have any fear,” Damion Thomas Sr. said. “In his freshman year, he showed how he was able to handle districts and states. When I thought about it, he grew up around track. He was always around my wife and I coaching. He has lot of poise and patience.”
Because Thomas will most likely be running against the clock and not his opponents this season, the question that begs to be answered is if he will have the necessary competition to break the state mark of 13.46 or the national mark of 13.1.
No matter his destiny, Thomas believes his added advantage is the prerace prayer sessions he has with his mother and the piece of paper with the scripture Philippians 4:13 — “I can do all things through Christ” — he keeps tucked underneath the sole of his cleats.
“The Lord gives me strength, he said I should not fear,” Thomas said. “That keeps me mentally focused for any type of race. Once I have that written in my shoes, I am mentally prepared and just care about finishing the race and executing to the best of my ability.”
Feb. 19-20: Louie Bing Classic.
Feb 27: Archbishop McCarthy Big Blue Invitational; Ferguson Falcons Invitational, Southridge Spartan Invitational.
March 4-5: Sam Burley Hall of Fame Invitational.
March 5: Hallandale Invitational.
March 12: Dade Christian Crusader Invitational; Miramar Relays.
March 18: BCAA North, South Central Prelims.
March 19: BCAA North and South Central Prelims.
March 22: BCAA Track & Field Championships (Dillard).
March 24: Cardinal Gibbons Field Open.
April 1: Dade Christian Last Chance Invitational.
April 11: District championships.
April 25-30: Regionals.
May 6-7: State championships at Bradenton IMG Academy.
TOP 10 TEAMS
Boys: St. Thomas Aquinas; Pine Crest; Boyd Anderson; Blanche Ely; Miramar; Cardinal Gibbons; Coconut Creek; Fort Lauderdale; Flanagan; Northeast; Girls: St. Thomas Aquinas; Boyd Anderson; Pine Crest; Northeast; Blanche Ely; Coconut Creek; Flanagan; Cypress Bay; Miramar; Fort Lauderdale
ATHLETES TO WATCH
Boys: Calvary Christian: Danny Ferro, Joel Lacy; Coral Springs Charter: Calvin Jackson, Lachland Shiver, Kalen Carson; Northeast: Damion Thomas Jr.; Blanche Ely: Jonathan Belizaire, Tremaine Brown, Devonte Findlay; Fort Lauderdale: Christian Cook, Alexander Dorsey, Anton Guzman, Eric Harrison; Douglas: Jared Rubin, Lance Moise, Scott Colbacchini; North Broward: James Bentayou, Jasen Vest, Logan Shooster; Pine Crest: Tony Bridges, Michael Kennedy, Ryan Welch; Taravella: Husani Wilburgh, Michel Normil, Kaylon Schmidt; Flanagan: Kevin Devis, Armani Malone;St. Thomas Aquinas: Justin Brown, Jermaine Byrd, Yohance Haynes, Darion Adriano;
Girls: Boyd Anderson: Anitria Sangster, Daishon Spann, Jimeshia Lawson, Aailyah Nelson; Calvary Christian: Nicole Taggart, Cadeebra Calcote, Crystal Cassinelli; Dillard: Brittany Gill; Coral Springs Charter: Jadah Stroup, Shira St. Cyr; Douglas: Gillian Morrison, Emilia Thom, Morgan Unger; Fort Lauderdale: Blake Alexander, Nicole Bello, Akilah Chapman Marcela Cote; Pine Crest: Nyla Lindo, Alyssa Pujals, Tsion Yared, Julia Montgomery; Taravella: Aisha Ferdinand, Yasmin Davis; North Broward: Katie Pinnell, Katie Bishop, Gianna Milan; Northeast: Jan’Taijah Ford, Chyna-Joi Staton, Carshaylah Harrison, Kameliah Style; South Plantation: Celeste Porter, Toijoin Wiggon; St. Thomas Aquinas: Shanell Atkins, Alexa Cruz, Kendyl Kerekes, Jeyli Jurkauskas;