Sometimes athletes arrive at finish line too quickly

Published May 8, 2007

With every passing year, days like this become fewer and farther in between. As DuJuan Harris sat on a patch of grass at Showalter Field after his electrifying performance at the Class 3A track and field championships, the reality appeared to set in.

"It's all about money now, " the Central senior said softly as he stared into the distance. "It's all about money and business."

Then, he paused.

"It wasn't about that over here."

That's the funny thing about high school sports. Kids like Harris spend four years chasing down finish lines, decreasing times, increasing distances, pushing themselves to run faster, to jump farther, to reach a prescribed goal in the shortest possible time. Then in the blast of a pistol it is over, and the roles are reversed, and they find themselves wishing it had all taken a little bit longer, that it had all progressed a little bit slower, that the finish line still lay in front instead of behind.

On Friday, Harris became just the second athlete in Hernando County history to win two state track titles in the same meet. He dominated the long jump, soaring 24 feet, 4 inches to win by a foot, then snagging a dramatic victory in the triple jump by leaping 47-1 on his final attempt.

At one point, while the 20 or so onlookers that lined a chained-link fence by the jump pit let out a chorus of "oohs" and "ahhhs, " Harris turned to one of his fellow competitors and said, "God gave me wings, and I use them to fly."

But for a kid who can fly, he looked remarkably grounded after all was said and done. His mother and baby sister sat next to him. The two gold medals weren't draped around his neck. It isn't clear where they were.

It should have been a crowning moment for an athlete who has spent the past eight months proving himself to anyone who will take notice. During football season, he rushed for nearly 1, 700 yards and set the county's single-game rushing record in his first and only season as a feature back. He signed a scholarship to Troy, the only Division I-A program that made him an offer.

And he joined former Olympic sprinter John Capel as the only athletes in county history to win multiple state titles.

Surely much of Harris' angst came from disappointing finishes in his two other events of the day (after competing in the long jump and triple jump for nearly four straight hours, he barely missed qualifying for the finals in the 100 and 200 meters).

But that wasn't the only thing bothering him. "I'm not ready for it to be over yet, " Harris said.

Ah, yes.

The finish line.

From here on out, life will change. Harris will move on to a small Alabama city where he will attempt to make a name for himself as a D-I running back. He'll start summer classes in late June, and training camp a little after that. He'll become a product, a commodity, a project, a player who will hopefully help his college win games and sell tickets, one who will eat prescribed meals and perform mandated lifting routines, someone who will try to set himself up to some day make a little money off his physical gifts.

In other words, rare will be a day like Friday: a day when he and a couple of coaches and his mother and his sister made the drive across S.R. 50 to a park on the outskirts of Orlando, a day when he was one of only two kids from this little county participating in the state championships, a day when he was competing only for himself, and against himself, with nothing at stake but pride and accomplishment.

For sure, the future is not bleak. There are worse ways to spend one's time than playing college football. And anyone who claims that one's high school days are the best life has to offer is comparing apples with oranges. Life is an isthmus and each stage an island: unique and autonomous, yet part of a whole.

Still, Harris is on to his next island, and open water can be an intimidating sight.

As he sat forlornly in the tent his Central coaches had erected outside the stadium, the lady sitting next to him smiled.

"I'm proud of him, " his mother, Rose Jones, said.

And, really, is there a greater accomplishment than that?

David Murphy can be reached at dmurphy@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1407.