TAMPA — A year later, the Ravens still …well …rave. Their awe remains undistilled at how, during a nondescript practice, diminutive sprinter Brandon Holloway’s status as a track star grew by leaps and bars.
It was last spring. Ravens high jumper Gigi Petion, who would place sixth at the state meet, was warming up with some modest heights when Holloway ambled over.
“Brandon was standing there and he said, ‘You know, Coach, I could do that,’ ” Ravens coach Roger Mills recalled. “And of course, nobody believed him. I was like, ‘Shut up, boy, you’re 5-foot-8. Get outta here.’ He was like, ‘No, I can jump that. I’m an athlete.’ ”
Leery of Holloway hurting himself, Mills nonetheless obliged. Holloway cleared 5-6. Then 5-8.
“So by this point, the whole team starts gravitating (to the high jump area),” Mills said.
By the time Holloway cleared 5-10, some Ravens baseball players — practicing a few feet away — had begun watching. Essentially the whole county was watching March 20, when Holloway cleared 6 feet at the Steinbrenner Invitational.
If the story stopped there, it probably would grow mythical wings over time, to the point where Holloway’s spontaneous soaring would be exaggerated. Problem is, achievement keeps trumping embellishment.
At a time trial last week, Holloway, a junior who turns 18 Tuesday, cleared 6-4, which would have qualified for last season’s Class 4A state meet.
Now opponents face a sobering prospect: The county’s top sprinter could add eight or 10 more points to the Ravens’ team score in a single bound — when he wants to.
“Brandon is a sprinter, let’s not make any bones about that,” Mills said. “Brandon is the best sprinter this school has ever had, and I’m going to argue that he’s …the best sprinter in the county right now.
“But at the same token, staying mentally sharp, you can’t run out a guy’s mental stability by having him do this race over and over, and that’s where the high jump fits in.”
Give Holloway a field-event diversion, there’s no telling how it might enhance his efforts in the 100 and 200 meters, where he figures to vie for a state medal in both. The 2010 county champ in the 200, Holloway was disqualified from the district meet for a controversial false start, but responded by winning the 100 and eventually placing seventh at state. His 10.73-second effort in the state prelims was a personal record.
Now he’s roughly 15 pounds thicker (to 155), especially in the legs, which he worked out every other day in the offseason while indulging more often in his beloved fettuccine alfredo. At the recent Jimmy Carnes Indoor meet at the University of Florida, Holloway ran the 200 in 22.56 seconds, placing fourth.
“The best thing that I had (last year) was my technique and running on the curve in 200s,” Holloway said. “But I knew I had to get a lot stronger if I wanted to compete with the people at states. Coming out of the blocks at states, a lot of people were a lot stronger than me, their legs were a lot bigger.”
Mental strength was another matter. Though Holloway was nearly inconsolable after his 200-meter disqualification at districts, Mills said he learned from his runner by watching him regroup and channel his energies into a victorious 100 effort.
The hope this year is the high jump serves a similar purpose, giving Holloway a vertical release from his marquee events while perhaps giving Alonso enough points to claim, say, a top-five county finish.
“I really think the high jump takes his mind away,” Mills said. “It’s almost like an Advil. It’s just a little painkiller.”
Five can’t-miss meets
March 5, Berkeley Track and Field Invitational, Berkeley Prep: The area’s private schools converge for an early-season gauge
March 5, Nash-Higgins Relays, Leto: All events in this traditional early-season meet staged in relay form
March 12, Charles Johnson Invitational, King: Expect 30 or more total teams, some from out of the area
March 19, USF/Steinbrenner Invitational, USF: This meet debuted last spring, drawing roughly 1,500 runners to USF
April 6, Vernon Korhn Hillsborough County Championships, Jefferson: Armwood boys, Wharton girls return as defending champs
Returning state medalists
Alonso: Brandon Holloway (100), Gigi Petion (high jump); Chamberlain: Max del Monte (1600); Hillsborough: Carlos Flores (4x800 relay), Jeremiah Green (triple jump), Robert Wilson (4x800 relay), Fabian Woodard (4x800 relay); Jesuit: Miles Bennett (100, 200, 4x400 relay), Blake Lopez (4x400 relay), Kyle Statz (300 hurdles); Middleton: Art Casey (800, 4x800 relay), Charles Frank (4x800 relay); Newsome: Isaac Baker (4x800 relay), Tyler Moriarty (4x800 relay), Michael Tourgee (4x800 relay); Plant: Brian Baird (pole vault), Antonio Crawford (4x100 relay), Brenton Honeywell (4x400 relay), Tony Posada (shot put); Plant City: Alex Delfino (pole vault)
Academy of the Holy Names: Colleen Doherty (1600, 4x800 relay), Katie Martin (4x800 relay), Amanda McWilliams (4x800 relay); Durant: Grace VanDeGrift (1600); East Bay: Nakia Love (long jump); Hillsborough: Narricka Williams (300 hurdles); King: Ashley McBride (100); Middleton: Amber Brooks (800); Riverview: Faith Woodard (high jump); Steinbrenner: Alexis Wright (triple jump); Tampa Catholic: Mari Ostrenko (pole vault)