TALLAHASSEE — Dentarius Locke prefers to look forward, not in the rearview mirror.
After two frustrating years at Tennessee, and a third in which he sat out as a transfer, Locke is enjoying success at Florida State in the indoor and outdoor track seasons. He ran 6.58 seconds in the 60 meters and 21.02 in the 200 at the ACC indoor championships in February, taking second place in both events, then earned All-America honors as a member of the Seminoles' school-record and bronze medal 800 relay team at the NCAA championships.
On April 6, in his first outdoor meet of the year, the former Chamberlain High standout ran 20.72 in the 200 to take fourth at the Florida Relays. Last weekend he helped FSU's 1,600 and 400 relay teams to times of 3 minutes, 8.24 seconds, and 40.14 seconds, which rank first and second, respectively, in the ACC this year.
"It's been a pretty good season," Locke said. "It seems like every week, I'm running faster. … The more you run, the easier it is to get the rhythm."
It seemed like Locke hadn't been able to find any rhythm until this spring. At Chamberlain, he won back-to-back Class 4A state titles in the 100 and a state title in the 200. But he was forced to sit out the 2010 season at Tennessee, taking a redshirt over an NCAA eligibility matter. Then came a stellar freshman season in which he finished second in the SEC meet in the 100 and tied a school record in the 200.
But Tennessee dismissed its head coach and sprint coach, and Locke began to question how much longer he wanted to stay in Knoxville. He opted to leave and decided to attend FSU, where he was forced to sit out the 2012 season when Tennessee would not grant his release.
"Leaving was a lot of confusion, things going on that I couldn't perform well under," Locke said. "All I wanted to do was run, but it's difficult when you have things about (whether) the coach is coming back and who are they bringing in. That was all confusing."
Locke, 23 and a junior majoring in communications, knew FSU coach Bob Braman and sprint coach Ken Harnden from his high school days. He said Tennessee coaches were persistent in the recruiting process but he also felt a connection with the FSU staff.
So when it was time to choose his next step in life, Locke felt comfortable with FSU.
"It's totally different than being at my previous school," Locke said. "I just feel better here. … Being here is a blessing."
He has found a close friendship with Harnden, who has coached Olympic medalists such as Walter Dix and NCAA champions such as Ngoni Makusha and Maurice Mitchell. Harnden has helped refine Locke's mechanics, teaching him to move his hands — which were going across his body while he strided — to more of a straight line.
Locke favors the 200 over the mad dash of the 60 indoors and the high-profile 100. But Harnden sees that Locke is a talent in any of the events.
"In his mind, (the 200 is) just more time to fix mistakes, not make them," Harnden said. "It's a far more technical race than the 100. I think he enjoys learning those aspects, but I don't think he's better at one than the other."
Locke is running stronger with each race, something that could work in his favor as the season's significant outdoor events approach. He will compete in the 100, 200 and sprint relays in the ACC outdoor championships, which begin Thursday in Raleigh, N.C.
The NCAA East preliminary meet is in May, and if he qualifies for the NCAA championships, they are in June.
The preparations for those meets take place every day in Tallahassee at Mike Long Track. FSU is loaded with sprinters, including Marvin Bracy, who finished a fraction of a second faster than Locke in the 60 final at the ACC indoor meet. Those daily sprints prepare Locke for what is ahead.
"As the coaches tell me, it's like being in an NCAA final every day in practice," Locke said. "When you go out there and run at NCAAs or ACCs or any big meets, it feels like we're at practice."