TAMPA — Hillsborough County track fans haven't missed the tall, skinny kid with the high-top fade haircut in the top 100-meter races this year — because he looks so out of place.
Setting up his blocks next to a field typically dotted with muscle-bound running backs and receivers who have transitioned from football, Deonte Williams appears to be entering the wrong race.
For a moment, a few may be tempted to tell him the 1,600-meter race will be later in the meet and to save his energy. Then he lines up in the blocks and the gun goes off.
"The first 30, 40 yards I still have my eyes closed," the Tampa Bay Tech senior sprinter said. "I just listen to the sound of the gun and know where I am on the track."
This lean frame rockets from the blocks, and within a few strides he's leading the field of vaunted football players. He stretches out his stride and sticks his head across the finish line in front of the whole group.
No football experience? No problem.
"I don't get intimidated. I'm big on the mental aspect of it," Williams said.
What's the source of his success?
Start with genes. Williams' mom, Tawanda Stukes, was a track star at King High School in the mid 1990s. She qualified for the state meet all four years and placed sixth in the 400 meters her senior year.
Williams' older brother Mark was a track star at Hillsborough who ran the 400 and 800 meters and for a time held a school record. Sister Makayla, 13, runs the 400 meters in an impressive 60 seconds. She still goes to Rampello Middle School.
Baseball serves as another positive. Williams has starred as the lead-off hitter on the Tampa Bay Tech baseball team since his sophomore year.
He batted .500 last season and stole 15 of 17 in just 17 games. Williams' speed is a factor in baseball, to say the least.
"Fifty percent of my hits are just bunts down the line," Williams said. "If I'm down 0-2 I'll just tap the ball down the line and beat out the throw, or at least it's going to be close."
In a 14-3 win over Spoto this past Tuesday, Williams hit an inside-the-park home run.
"I hit it down the right field line and it got into the corner," Williams said. "As soon as I rounded second (base) I knew I had it."
Baseball is his first love, he says. He has played in the Temple Terrace Little League since he was 6. The speed was there even then.
"He could hit the ball anywhere and turn a single into a home run," his mother said.
Inside-the-park home runs were commonplace for Williams in little league ball, but when he turned the feat in high school games, he eventually realized those skills could translate to the track.
And the hair? Well it just may be an added intangible.
"I grew out an Afro my junior year, then decided to go with a high top for regionals," Williams said. "That's how I got the nickname 'High Top.' I figured it's better than 'Skinny Kid.' "
Williams dabbled at track at Burnett Middle School in Seffner, and didn't join the Tampa Bay Tech track team until last season. His first high school meet was at the Charles Johnson Invitational of 2012.
"I saw everyone getting these blocks out, and I had never even used them before," Williams said. "I just set them up the way everybody else did and used them."
Williams ran an 11-flat, coming in third place behind Hillsborough's Anthony Brown (football player now at Purdue) and Armwood's Wade Edwards (football player now at Akron). Williams would go on to finish sixth at last year's Class 4A state meet.
This year at Charles Johnson, Williams ran a 10.92 and beat out football players Jeremiah Green of Hillsborough, Eric Moate of Spoto and Eddie Burgos of Sunlake. Williams went on to establish the fastest time at the Hillsborough County meet at Jefferson, a 10.52 in the prelims.
Charles Johnson turned out to be a big factor in Williams' prep track career — not the meet but the man.
"I was concerned he needed help out of the blocks," Stukes, his mother, said, "and I approached (Johnson) about helping with getting out of the blocks. I could tell a big difference" after the teen worked with Johnson last summer. "Deonte had better strides, better form. Everything else is natural talent."
Williams will lace up his spikes Wednesday at Leto and line up next to another group of running backs and wide receivers, including one from his own team, senior Jamaruz Thompkins.
They may not fare any better than the other ballers who have challenged the skinny kid.
Andy Warrener can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.