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  1. Sports

at ease in fast lane

TAMPA — His rubberized straightaways often are preceded by rocky road.

Each Friday during track season, Alonso senior William Taylor-Haynes and a buddy head to a local Target, buy a gallon of ice cream and pop the lid before hitting the parking lot.

"I just eat it out of the gallon (container) with a spoon," Taylor-Haynes said. "I never eat the same ice cream twice."

Within those weekly brain freezes lies a metaphor drenched in milk fat. Life couldn't be richer or sweeter for the top male hurdler in Ravens history. But, oh, how it could have gone sour.

Consider the back story:

Mom was a three-time track All-American at USC. Mom's best friend was a Pac-10 track champ at UCLA. Dad was an East Tennessee State middle linebacker. This is where the cynical might envision adults relentlessly trying to reclaim bygone glory through their offspring.

In this case, that scenario melts like a bucket of mint chocolate chip on a May afternoon. If anything, Taylor-Haynes finds himself poised to make a pair of trips to the medal stand at Saturday's Class 4A state meet because his folks took a hands-off approach.

"My mom and dad didn't want to be like, one of those crazy, athletic, fanatic parents and push us … into sports," said Taylor-Haynes, the oldest of Michelle Taylor and Ricardo Haynes' three boys.

"I know a lot of students and other kids that absolutely hate their sport because their parents pushed them into it. My parents made it a personal choice."

Indeed, trial and error led Taylor-Haynes to a track more than Mom did. Before hurdles and high jumping, there was soccer, baseball, hoops, even a year of JV football. He is completing only his third season of track and field.

"We didn't want to kill it," said Michelle Taylor, a member of USC's 1987 national championship 1,600-meter relay team. "When you're an athlete, I think sometimes it's difficult to find your own way. … He needed to find his way."

Upon finding it, he flourished — almost immediately.

Slender yet sturdy, Taylor-Haynes (6-foot-1 1/2, 183 pounds) is among the favorites in the 110 hurdles and a dark horse contender in the high jump. Last season, he medaled in both events.

"What you find with a lot of athletes that start … early is, by the time they get to college, they're burnt," said Michelle Taylor, whose times in the 400 and 800 rank second in USC history.

"So what I think is really nice for William is, he's just starting to come into his own, so he should be able to take advantage of the upside of growing into his man muscles and maturing in the sport when he's a grown-up."

Assisting with that development is Taylor's best friend, Gayle Kellon, whom she first met when both were navigating puberty and quarter-mile splits for the renowned Southern California Cheetahs running club.

Kellon, who assists Ravens coach Roger Mills, was seventh in the 400 hurdles at the 1986 NCAA championships, and was a teammate of Olympic gold medalist Gail Devers on UCLA's 4x400 squad that won a conference title.

"What makes him good as an athlete, as an all-around athlete is, he can take whatever you tell him — technique, strategy, it doesn't matter — and he can process it and process it quickly," said Kellon, a freelance video editor who moved to the area a few months back.

"And he's a great athlete."

The future seems as enticing as the dairy section. Taylor-Haynes, who twice has eclipsed 14 seconds in the 110 hurdles this year, said North Carolina State, UCLA and USF have expressed interest. Had he started earlier, maybe he'd have a letter of intent in hand.

But he reached the starting blocks by process, not prodding. Athletically, Taylor-Haynes needed time to sort out his favorite flavor. Saturday, he'll dig in some more.

"My parents gave us the opportunity to just do what we wanted," he said.

Joey Knight can be reached at jknight@tampabay.com or on Twitter @JoeyHomeTeam.

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