Column: Nothing short of perfect will do this time around for Lakewood boys

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Mon. April 22, 2013 | John C. Cotey | Email

Column: Nothing short of perfect will do this time around for Lakewood boys

When he crunches the numbers and does the math, Lakewood High School track coach Anthony Snead sees a clear path to the state championship.

He sees Shaquem and Shaquill Griffin soaring through the air, Tim “T.J.” Holmes effortlessly clearing hurdles, his relay teams getting faster with each leg.

The numbers, they just add up.

But make just the slightest adjustment — a bobble, a scratch, a toe out of place — and that path isn’t so clear anymore.

“Everything,” said Lakewood track star Shaquem Griffin, “has got to be perfect.”

For Snead then, this week he has one mission: preparing his team for perfection.

Then crossing his fingers.

Saturday in Jacksonville, the Spartans will try to win the first state track team title in school history.

In the back of their minds? Last year.

“That just makes it more sweet to be back,” said Snead, who doesn’t remind his team of a dropped baton in the 4x100 that cost the Spartans a state title — because he doesn’t need to.

The Spartans were supposed to win that race. Instead of 10 points, or even eight for second place, they got zero.

Had they won, they would have finished the meet with 48. Had they finished second, they would have finished with 46. Had they done either, they would have won state.

“All it takes is one mistake,” Snead said.

It is how his Spartans reacted to that miscue that has the team back in the same position this year.

Shaquem (the defending triple jump champ) and Shaquill Griffin each added an event, the long jump, and now are expected to score big points in the event Saturday.

Holmes, sixth in the 300 hurdles last year, not only got better but added the 100 and has dominated both all season, with times that rank him among the best in the nation.

And Deandre Boykins and Marquez Valdes were recruited by the Griffins off the football team.

Not since Dermillo Wise scored 32 of Lakewood’s 33 points at state in 2001 and won the 100 and 330 hurdles in 2002 have any Spartans left a bigger imprint on the program.

“The Griffins are the ultimate competitors,” Snead said. “They know how close we were last year. What these guys did to make up for that is amazing.”

Despite often boasting a terrific collection of athletes, the Spartans have never fared particularly well at state, where the relay points were the difference between gold and a fifth-place finish.

Since 1967, Lakewood has had eight top-10 finishes, but never placed higher than third as a team.

Even the girls teams, with dozens of district and region titles and even a future Olympian in Rose Richmond, has mustered only four runnerup finishes.

This small group of Spartan boys, though, are primed to change things.

Throughout the season — spanning conference, district and region meets — they have possessed a quiet confidence.

Holmes is icy cool, the Griffins eerily confident, and Boykins (200), Valdes (4x100) and Devontae Persha (800 and 4x400 relay) have nudged the Spartans, if not to favorite status, then pretty darned close.

“You might want to watch out for us,” Boykins said.

Looking at the numbers, it could be excruciatingly close Saturday. It took 45 points for Plantation American Heritage to win the title last year but may require more this weekend.

And it may require another incredible run in the 4x400, the final event of the meet and a race almost sure to be the best at any distance in any class this season.

Three weeks ago at the Florida Relays, Lakewood ran the nation’s fastest time to nip Miami Booker T. Washington 3:13.32 to 3:13.45.

Not to be outdone, American Heritage beat Washington last week at regionals by running a 3:14.

Snead is unbowed. He remains hopeful, and the more math he does, the better he feels, as long as he doesn’t have to make any adjustments.

“Last year the expectations were to be competitive and see what happens,” Snead said. “Now we want to redeem ourselves. No mistakes.

“This year, they want to leave the party as champions.”

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