The fastest time from a Pensacola sprinter this year may not have happened without one late scratch.
Pine Forest senior Marcus Reaves was an alternate for the 100-meter dash at the invitation-only Mobile Challenge of Champions on April 2. Though he warmed up in the same way he would any other race, Reaves could only hope he’d be given the chance to prove himself against a field of state champions.
That chance came at the last minute when another athlete no-showed for the event. Even with his fortune, Reeves was put in the unfavorable position of running in lane one.
Bursting out of the blocks on the inside lane, Reaves ran neck-and-neck before pulling away to seal the biggest victory of his career, setting a school record in the process with the third-fastest time in Florida this year.
“He ran 10.66 into a headwind,” Pine Forest boys head coach C.J. Washington said. “That shows how strong he is.”
It was only Reaves’ fourth race of the year, and it came over a field that featured four state champions from around the Southeast.
Reaves’ 10.66 puts the senior just over three-tenths of a second behind the top time in 3A this year, which belongs to Chauncy Smart of Auburndale.
The time also brings Reaves into an elite conversation. No Pensacola sprinter has taken the 100-meter state championship since Justin Gatlin won the title with Woodham in 2000.
“That kid is potentially a 10.4 sprinter which would make him really the fastest kid to come out of Pensacola since Justin Gatlin,” Pine Forest girls head coach Paul Bryan said. “He’s really something special.”
A championship pedigree
Born with a powerful frame to support his natural strength, Reaves said he’s always been drawn to athletics, dabbling in swimming and soccer early in his high school career.
But track and field has always held a special place for his family. His grandfather was a state champion in track at Pensacola Catholic.
“He has that sitting over him and I think he just wants to do that with him,” Washington said. “They’ve had long talks about that goal: to get a gold medal like his grandfather.”
While his grandfather’s success may have been an early motivation, Reaves said the sport came naturally the more successful he became.
“It’s always connected to the success, but when you’re coming around the curve or you get the baton and you hear that crowd cheer, it’s something I love,” Reaves said.
Though the sport came naturally to Reaves, his success wasn’t immediate.
Near yearly setbacks kept Reaves from competing for full seasons and challenging for state meet appearances.
“Apparently ever since seventh grade he’s been pulling hamstrings,” said Reggie Williams, Reaves’ trainer and owner of Legendary Fitness. “At that point once you have a pulled hamstring you’re just trying to keep it glued together. There’s not a bunch you can do, other than treating symptoms… His mechanics were poor, which is why he kept pulling it every year.”
A set of “bad habits” developed into problems like overstriding, which was compounded by “weak hamstrings” that Reaves said he’d never properly trained.
As much as the hamstring injuries affected Reaves physically, it was the mental toll that kept him from pushing to his full potential.
“When the hamstring goes, you just have no idea when that’s going to happen,” Reaves said. “For a while my family would say, ‘You’re not putting it in fifth gear.’ I would only do enough to stay out in front instead of pushing because I didn’t know what would happen.”
Under Williams’ watchful eye, Reaves began a dedicated strength and conditioning program last summer to recover after a pulled hamstring ended his season at regionals.
After two setbacks in 2015, Reaves has yet to have any problems in 2016, and that’s finally paying off in big fashion.
In addition to holding the third fastest 100-meter time in the state, the senior also anchors Pine Forest’s 4×100 team, which is the fastest in 3A by .34 seconds.
“He’s starting to peak,” Williams said. “My hope is that he’ll peak around regionals and then if he can get to state, hopefully he can compete for a title.”
In order to join the ranks of Gatlin and other athletes who’ve brought the 100-meter state title to Pensacola, Reaves will likely need to run near the 10.4 goal set by his coaches. The last five 3A state champions in the 100 averaged a time of 10.46.
While his coaches say he has all the tools to hit the mark, Reaves said he wouldn’t mind receiving a little help from Mother Nature once in a while.
“I wish I could get a wind at my back,” Reaves said. “The number one runner in the state has had tailwinds but me, I’ve been running into headwinds and putting up numbers that are similar to his. I can’t wait to get out there and compete with him to get my state rings.”
However, Williams said Reaves’ strong frame actually helps when the wind is against him.
“If he’s running into the wind, I will put him up against anyone,” Williams said. “He’s just so strong. Some people when they run into the wind, they aren’t as fast, but he definitely can.”
Whether Reaves is able to achieve his dream is yet to be seen, but there’s little doubt among his coaches that he’ll have a future at the next level.
“I definitely think he can be a dominant collegiate athlete,” Williams said. “With his frame and makeup, he may be more of a 200 meter runner, but he can do the 100 and still get faster.”
And as for joining Gatlin? Reaves said he’s just happy to be in the conversation.
“It feels great to be compared to people that are successful in what they do, but I don’t dwell on it too much,” Reaves said. “I just want to get my state ring and move on to the next level.”
•What: District 1-3A Track and Field Championships
•When: Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.
•Where: Booker T. Washington High School
•Teams competing: Escambia, Gulf Breeze, Milton, Pace, Pensacola, Pine Forest, Tate, Washington.