TAMPA — The medal-laden track career of Hillsborough senior Anthony Brown was spawned by one unconventional field event.
More specifically, centerfield event.
Rewind two autumns. A Terriers football practice, staged on the outfield grass of the baseball stadium, was winding down. But as bravado goes, Brown — a defensive back who dabbles at wideout — and top receiver Charles Lovett were just getting wound up.
Smack talk flew over who was faster. Within moments, the two had shed their pads and coaches were walking off a 50-yard stretch in the outfield. Lovett, who ultimately signed with Colorado State, took the initial lead before being overtaken by a late Brown burst.
Football assistant and boys track coach Joe Sipp made a similar burst to where Brown was cooling down.
“I went up to him and said, ‘Brown, you’re going to be with me from January till May so don’t set any plans,’ ” Sipp said. “He was like, ‘Yes, sir.’ ”
Roughly six months later, Brown was twice climbing the medal stand at the Class 3A state meet, where the first track season of his life culminated with third-place finishes in the 100 and 200 meters.
He enters this spring as the county’s premier sprinter, though he had hoped to earn that distinction through a few more showdowns with another fleet football star.
Fate robbed local track fans of what shaped up as a breathtaking series of duels when Brown’s primary rival, Alonso senior (and Mississippi State football signee) Brandon Holloway, sustained a season-ending hamstring sprain during practice early last week.
“When I heard it I was like, that’s messed up, because I don’t want anybody to get hurt,” said Brown, who signed a football scholarship with Purdue this month. “He’s going to college so you can’t mess that up, so I feel him on that.”
Though Holloway won every major 200-meter encounter, Brown edged him in the 100 in two March races — the Charles Johnson Invitational at King High and USF/Steinbrenner Invitational — before Holloway prevailed at the Vernon Korhn County Championships in early April.
They almost certainly would’ve rekindled their rivalry Saturday at the Johnson Invitational.
“Of course, I looked forward to it,” Brown said.
“We raced three times (in the 100) last year. I won two, he won one. People look forward to that, but ... he’s got to look at the bigger picture. He’s got to deal with that injury, not anybody else.”
Should he avoid any serious injuries, Brown (6-foot, 183 pounds) projects as a three-medal recipient at his final state meet.
A sleek package of explosiveness, strength and superstition, Brown sits in the same bus seat — right side, third row from the front — en route to every meet. A raw burst makes him a natural in the 100, but Sipp says he’s mastering his technique around the curve in the 200.
“I mean, just flip a coin,” Sipp said. “He’s good at both (events).”
This year, two of the three runners who finished ahead of Brown at state return. He and junior Jeremiah Green — a state title favorite in the triple jump — also are back to lead a Terriers 4x100 squad that dropped a baton on the final exchange of the state prelims.
Toss in three other returning state medalists and some promising youngsters, and Hillsborough appears poised for a second top-five state finish in three seasons.
“We have some good depth,” Sipp said. “We have some young guys that we’re excited to see run and see what they can do. We have a lot of good potential, but you know what you can do with potential.”
Girls athletes to watch
Sandra Akachukwu, Jr., Freedom: 2011 high jump state medalist
Ciarra Hawkins, Sr., Hillsborough: Medaled in 400, 4x400 relay at 3A state meet last season
Jorian Ordway, Jr., Hillsborough: 400-meter specialist won two state medals last season
Plant 4x800 relay team: Cross country star Scarlett Fox joins three returning medal winners
Claire Snyder, So., Tampa Prep: State cross country medalist placed eighth in 3,200 at Class A meet last spring
Faith Woodard, Jr., Riverview: Reigning 4A high jump runnerup notched 5-6 effort Tuesday at Spoto
Alexis Wright, Sr., Steinbrenner: Reigning 2A 100-meter hurdles champ claimed three state medals in 2011
Boys athletes to watch
Anthony Brown, Sr., Hillsborough: Third in 100 and 200 at 3A meet last spring
Robert Davis, Jr., Carrollwood Day: Sleek tailback earned Class A state medal in 100 meters as sophomore
Max del Monte, Sr., Chamberlain: FSU signee was second in 1,600 at ’11 4A meet
Ike Edwards, Sr., Jesuit: Best thrower in county; two top-three finishes at 2A meet last spring
Jeremiah Green, Jr., Hillsborough: Eclipsed 48 feet in triple jump at AAU Nationals last summer
Eric Moate, Jr., Spoto: Reigning 200-meter state medalist won four events at four-team meet Tuesday
Newsome 4x800 relay team: Three runners back from team that placed sixth at 4A meet
Tampa Prep 4x800 relay team: Three runners back from Class A state medalist squad