It did not take long for Jalen Hunter to realize the best route for him to take in his high school athletic career.
As the younger brother of former Guyer wide receiver Cameron Hunter, who went on to play football for a short stint at the Air Force Academy, the younger Hunter could have chased his dream of playing football when he was a running back as a freshman.
Instead, Jalen Hunter put all of his focus on track as a sophomore, and so far, the move has paid off for the Guyer junior.
“Freshman year, I was all about football and wasn’t really thinking about track. But after sophomore year and I saw everyone getting injured, I didn’t really feel like football would be productive for me in the future,” Hunter said. “I decided to just go full on with track and do whatever I could to get a scholarship.”
But before thinking about his college future, Hunter still has a lot to accomplish in high school track. His journey begins Friday night, when he will compete in three events at the UIL state track and field meet in Austin and help renew Guyer’s spot at the meet after a two-year absence when the school was in Class 5A.
Hunter will be joined in the Guyer contingency by the girls 1,600-meter relay team, which includes Candalyn Lyons, who also qualified in the 100-meter dash.
Hunter will compete in the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles and is a member of Guyer’s 800 relay team that will compete in Austin.
The fact that Hunter is competing in all three events at the state’s highest level is a story in itself after he had to deal with a quick turnaround at the 4A Region I meet in Abilene. After the meet got behind, the organizers tried to catch up, forcing Hunter to compete in all three events in less than 40 minutes.
“When I stepped up to the line [for the 300 hurdles, his final event], I was just trying to make top three. I was so exhausted. I didn’t know how I was gonna do it. Once I got past the 150 [meter] mark, we were all close and I just was making sure I could stay in the top three.”
Hunter went on to finish second after taking silver in the 110 hurdles and in the 800 relay.
Jerrod Heard, who will run the second leg of Guyer’s 800 relay as he did at the regional meet when Hunter was edged at the very end of the race by Fort Worth Southwest, said Hunter’s accomplishment is hard to fathom from an endurance standpoint.
“That’s pretty impressive,” Heard said of the tight schedule. “That’s pretty hard to do. That’s a big thing. I’m happy for him.”
The state meet will be a little more generous with its scheduling as Hunter will run his first event — the 110 hurdles — at 6:45 p.m. Forty minutes later, he will anchor the 800 relay, and 40 minutes after that he’ll close with perhaps the most grueling of the three races, the 300 hurdles.
“That’s still tough to do at the state level in three events,” Guyer head track coach Oschlor Flemming said. “At regionals they were behind, so they were trying to catch up and they were going pretty quick. It seemed like about 35 minutes and he had done all three. He did a great job.”
Hunter said his favorite event is the relay because of the teamwork involved in the event — a rarity in an individual-based sport — but he’s proven to be quite the hurdler, making it to the regional meet in 5A as a freshman and sophomore and finally breaking through this season. He now is the school record holder in both the 110 hurdles (14.34 seconds) and 300 hurdles (37.99). He also anchored the 800 relay team at the regional meet, helping to set a new school record of 1:26.72.
“There’s only a few events in track you have to actually coach,” Flemming said. “Hurdles is one, high jump is one and shot put and discus, too. Those are the ones you have to actually coach. The rest is just training a kid and getting kids to buy into it. But he works tirelessly on the hurdles; all the time I see him out here. It’s paid off for him.”
Hunter said he hopes to run a 13.9 in the 110 hurdles and break 36 seconds in the 300 hurdles, and despite his recent record times, he’s far from letting up or resting on his laurels.
“I really don’t believe in the word ‘peak’ because you can run as much as possible and feel like you’re at a certain point, but you can always be pushed to be better and do better moving forward,” Hunter said. “It’s just a matter of your mindset.”
A big part of Hunter’s mindset for this weekend will be running on the big stage at Mike A. Myers Stadium on the University of Texas campus with 10,000 people in the stands watching his every stride.
The junior will be joined on the 800 relay team by three seniors: Heard, John Schilleci and Josh Harris, all of whom will also be running in the state’s biggest meet for the first time in their careers. But there’s a key difference between those three and Hunter: They all have played in a state championship football game — Harris in 2010 and Schilleci and Heard in 2012, while Harris was injured.
“It’s pretty much the biggest stage he’s been on,” Flemming said of Hunter. “These other kids have played state championship football, so they’ve been in the big arena before, but this is his first time. I’m anxious to see how he’ll perform. I think he’ll be OK, but you always have that doubt in the back of your mind as a coach. You never know what you’ll get until you put a kid in that situation.”
Hunter is calm and ready for the new experience.
“I’m just going to treat it like any other track meet,” Hunter said. “I have good competition, and I’m in a good position to get top three. As long as I don’t develop an injury, I should be fine.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.