As the King Lions prepare for the Hillsborough County track championships on Tuesday, four Lion sprinters have their eyes set not just on the county title, but on prizes far beyond.
King's powerful relay is building to a crescendo. Seniors Darian Wright, Dionte Poole, Emerson Tyler and Javontee Brice represent one of the best chances for a Hillsborough County relay team to make the podium at the state championship meet.
The King boys possess an essential any relay needs to medal: experience.
The quartet has comprised both the 4x100-meter and the 4x400 relay teams since the 2013 season. Experience is tantamount to success in a race where there are three baton exchanges that can mean the difference between first and second, or first and last.
"In the 4x1, the (handoffs) are very crucial," Lions coach Deirdre Johnson said. "If the timing is not right, it blows away everything."
Precious tenths of seconds mean everything in a race as close and precise as the 4x100. Just ask the boys about how they missed the finals at state last year by two-hundredths of a second.
"It was devastating being that close and having a bad race," Wright said. "This year, no matter what the weather or the situation, we'll be strong enough and capable enough to run to our potential."
The boys ran a 43.38 at state and their season ended there in the concourse at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.
"We thought we had qualified but then the announcer called out the teams (for the finals) and we weren't in it," Poole said. "At the time we were mad, but two weeks later, we were back on the track practicing again."
This year, the team has posted wins at the Charles Johnson Invitational, the Nash Higgins Relays and an eye-popping 42.14 win at the USF-Steinbrenner Invitational.
"It's realistic, let's say if you ran a 43.1, it's realistic to think you could come down to 42.8 or 42.7 but these guys are above and beyond realistic," Johnson said.
The chemistry extends into the 4x400 relay, as well. They were just putting the relay together last season when they took fifth at regionals; again, one spot away from advancing.
This year, the ceiling might be higher for the 4x400 team than it is in the 4x100. The team already owns the 11th best time in the state, a 3:22.78, and that's significantly better than the 3:27.33 they posted at last year's regional meet.
"Realistically, a good 4x4 team can knock four seconds off their time," Johnson said.
"And they've bought into it, they know if they run the 400-meter faster they will be better at their individual events."
Johnson admitted that it took some coercion to get the boys to run the 4x400m relay. In fact, Johnson campaigned just to get them all out for track.
"Freshman year, Dionte, Darian and Javontee were football guys, that's all they wanted to do was play football," Johnson said.
Tyler had to be coaxed away from the soccer team but Johnson and assistants Charles Johnson, Willard Crawford and Trey Thomas noticed they had something promising on their hands.
Each runner has his own strengths, too.
"(In practice) Dionte usually wins the 100, Emerson and I usually win the 200 and Javontee is the best 400 runner," Wright said. "But it's a brotherly competition, we have a bond like those are my brothers."
It's that team chemistry that gives them the edge.
"They know how fast the other one is going to get out and they are able to read each other's handoffs in practice, they suggest changes, it's a huge advantage," Johnson said. "This year, they have one heartbeat. They can make adjustments and are aware of each other and what they can do together."