In a sport which is the ultimate test of one's agility, strength and stamina, Robert C. Byrd's Tony Shade could make a cause as one of the state's top athletes.
Shade's performances in three track and field events are already impressive -- and the senior is just getting started.
"Way ahead of last year," he said when asked about where he stood. And the numbers back that up.
His 14.6 is the second best returning time in the 110's. This season, he's already ran a 14.7, which is nearly a full second ahead of where he was at the beginning of the 2000 season. In the 300 intermediate hurdles, he's the top returning performer with a time of 39.45, but where he's really turning heads is in the long jump.
Last week, his leap of 21-feet-5 smashed the previous meet record at the St. Joseph's Invitational in Parkersburg. The distance is considered an absurd mark at this time of the season.
"That really doesn't surprise me," Robert C. Byrd boys track coach Bob Steele said. "I knew Tony had it in him.
"This year, he changed his approach and now he's hitting the pit at full speed, so I knew it was just a matter of him getting everything down."
Last season, Shade finished second in both the 110s and 300s at the state track and field meet. So far he's rated No. 1 in both events, and his long jump mark is the top performance documented this season.
However he's not about to rest on those performances. Instead, they've fueled him to work even harder.
"I don't believe in pacing myself or trying to be at this point or that point during the season," Shade said. "Each race I go out there and try to better my (previous) time. It's all about challenging myself."
At the moment, it looks like there's little around.
North Marion's Andy Kucish actually beat Shade once last season, and Woodrow Wilson's Jamar Dunnigan is the only hurdler returning with times to rival Shade's. Dunnigan, however, blew out his knee during football season, and he isn't projected back on the track until mid- to late-May.
Shade, himself, actually got a late start on this track season. He was the starting shooting guard on the Eagles' basketball team, which advanced to the state tournament, forcing him to miss much of the early season.
"Personally, I think it helped him," Steele said. "He came right into track in great shape. There wasn't a layoff. He's a much better runner than he was at this point a season ago.
"If anything, I was worried he'd want to take a break, and he wouldn't have time to. Instead, he came right out, and so far it's been the right move for him."
Even Shade admits he's surprised to an extent about his quick start. Each year he's seen steady improvement which will lead him as a favorite in Charleston.
"I'd like to win in the states," Shade said. "I was a little disappointed last year. In the long jump, I'd like to get out to 22 (feet). I think 23-4 won it last year, and I think if I work and get my steps down and don't get any injuries I could get out to there.
"My time in the 300s is right around what it usually takes (to win), so I know I'm close. I just have to keep working."
Sports writer Mike Nutter can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at email@example.com.