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Column: Deandre Boykins gives Spartans an unlikely spark

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Sat. April 27, 2013 | John C. Cotey | Email

Column: Deandre Boykins gives Spartans an unlikely spark

JACKSONVILLE

He didn’t run track last season because his left ankle hurt.

He didn’t run the first meet this year because his right ankle hurt.

His right knee started to bother him during the season — especially at the district meet.

At the region meet, his left hamstring felt like it might pop, causing him to finish last in the 100 meters.

You almost expected the Lakewood High School track team to wheel Deandre Boykins into the University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium on Saturday night.

But a season’s worth of aches and pains weren’t stopping him on this night.

The Spartans senior didn’t limp across the finish line in the final track meet of the season.

He sprinted across it.

• • •

On a night when Lakewood won the first boys state track champion­ship in Pinellas County since 1970 (Bishop Barry, which is now St. Petersburg Catholic) by the narrowest of margins, where the Griffin twins — Shaquill and Shaquem — and Timothy Holmes cemented their legacy as arguably the greatest track trio in county history, Boykins was clearly the MVP.

He only scored four points, about four more than anyone really expected, and Lakewood needed every one of them.

“He was the surprise of the day,” Lakewood coach Anthony Snead said.

“We were hoping he’d score at least one point.”

Just one.

The biggest meet of the season, and your teammates are expecting nothing, but praying for something.

One point.

Funny thing was, one wasn’t nearly enough. Had Boykins scored just a single point by finishing eighth in his event, the 200 meters, the Spartans would not have gone to bed Saturday night wearing gold medals.

Instead, Boykins ran the fastest he had in his life, finishing in 21.69 seconds and taking fifth place.

Fifth place meant four points, not one, and Lakewood — traumatized by dropped batons and near misses at the state track meet since forever — won the team title by a 67-66 margin over Miami Washington.

Never one for the spotlight, Boykins sneaked away after his race to sit in the stands with his parents.

“Everyone was like, 'It’s on you,’ ” said Boykins, who heard this Wednesday — and Thursday and Friday, too.

And Saturday, of course.

He confessed it made him just a little scared.

“We knew what Shaquill would do, we knew what Shaquem would do, and we knew what (Holmes) was going to do,” Boykins said.

But what would Boykins do?

The improbable, it turned out.

He came into the meet with the ninth-fastest time, ran the seventh-fastest time in preliminaries, then saved his best for last.

“I did kinda good,” he said, smiling.

Despite the big names, this is how Lakewood won it all — with guys like Boykins, Devontae Persha, Lidell Golden Jr. and Jahaven Haye, a sophomore move-in from Jamaica.

Oh sure, the Griffin twins ran the show all year with a competitive fire and steely determination. And Holmes was like butter going over the hurdles. Those three Spartans were automatic, winning three events and combining for 49 of Lakewood’s points while running on a relay that scored six more.

But when they needed a new lead leg on the 4x400 for districts, Persha stepped in. When they needed a new anchor leg on the 4x100, they turned to Golden in the prelims, then to Boykins in the finals.

To take Boykins’ spot on lead, they tapped Haye.

“It was tough,” said Snead. “But thank God we finished, and we finished strong.”

If the Griffins and Holmes were the glue, then Boykins was the Scotch tape, applied here and there to keep things going.

His 200 was shocking, and his leg on the 4x100 was absolutely spectacular. He didn’t win that race, he merely put a scare into the Washington faithful by nearly erasing a huge lead and catching the leader.

“He was a lifesaver,” Shaquill Griffin said. “After he ran that 200, I wanted to give him a big hug.”

No matter how the team crunched the numbers beforehand, no matter how much they massaged the times, the Spartans were either barely going to have enough to win state, or barely not enough.

They needed something unexpected.

“I told Boykins, 'Save us,’ ” said Shaquill Griffin. “I told him, 'Be the hero.’ ”

Saturday night, that’s just what Deandre Boykins was.

John C. Cotey can reached at cotey@tampabay.com or on Twitter @JohnnyHomeTeam.

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