Carl Sheffield says he’s building something special with the North Texas track program. This week it will be up to Steven White to show that his head coach is right.
White will be one of three UNT athletes competing at the NCAA national track meet in Eugene, Ore., and could have the best chance among the trio to get to the finals and earn All-America honors when he runs in the preliminary rounds of the 400-meter hurdles today.
Jo Adams will run in the semifinals of the 1,500 meters Thursday, while Shahaf Bareni will compete in the high jump Saturday.
The trio will represent the largest contingent of UNT athletes competing in individual events at the national meet since 1983. Each will look to become UNT’s first first-team All-American since Brandi Stanfield, who earned the distinction in the 2006 indoor season.
White earned second-team All-America honors last season when he finished 14th at the national meet. The athletes who advance to the finals earn first-team honors.
“If you look at our resumes and how our peers see us, if they see we have a Sun Belt champion, they ask, ‘Who’s in the Sun Belt?’” Sheffield said. “But if you say you have an All-American, they know what that is. That puts us on a different level. That is what our peers measure us by.”
White enters the meet seeded seventh with a qualifying time of 50.22 seconds but ran even faster at the Sun Belt championship meet, where he posted a time of 49.93.
That performance helped bolster White’s confidence when it comes to his chances to earn a spot in the finals and post a performance that would help set the tone for the program going forward.
“Someone has to do it and be an All-American,” White said. “I am proud of what I have done. It shows that I can lead this team and set an example for people coming in behind me. Just because you are from North Texas doesn’t mean you can’t go above and beyond what everyone else can do.”
White came close to posting that type of performance last season despite a few injuries that slowed him down late in the year.
This year, everything seems to be setting up perfectly for White. The Killeen native is healthy and running well at the right time.
Sheffield said that earlier in his career White would look around while competing in the biggest meets and would wonder whether he was among the elite athletes there.
At this point, White knows he is among the best after repeatedly faring well against the top-rated 400-meter hurdlers in college track.
White can cement his place in UNT history by performing well again, this time on the biggest stage in the country.
It’s a big opportunity, not only for White but for the whole UNT program.
“Coach Sheffield has talked to me about how important it is for the program for me to be an All-American,” White said. “It would show the progression of the program and how far we have come. It’s been a long time since we have been on the national map.”
White can help put UNT there today, not to mention finish his college career on a high note.
“This is my last one,” White said. “It’s definitely important to me.
“I have to show what my four years here have done for me and go out with a bang.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.