SANGER — Sanger distance runner Jacob Perry spent quite a bit of time this season cheering on his teammates from the bleachers.
It was a fun change of pace for Perry and at the same time part of a well thought-out plan. Instead of competing in those Class 3A meets, usually held on Thursdays, Perry spent his senior year going to bigger weekend meets where he could test his mettle against the fastest athletes from the state’s largest classification.
“It was awesome, I could get out and run with the best [from Class 5A] and still be there to watch my teammates,” Perry said. “If we all perform the way we should, we have a chance for a team title at state.”
The Indians will have eight athletes at the Class 3A state track and field meet Friday and Saturday at the University of Texas in Austin. It’s the largest group coach Adam Shaw said he has taken during his four years at the helm and Perry, a Texas A&M signee, is the centerpiece.
Perry will compete in both the 1,600 and 3,200 meters, events he won at the 3A Region II meet. His time of 9 minutes, 18.72 seconds in the 3,200 was a personal best and region track record. He won the 1,600 with a time of 4:24.20. He has the best qualifying time in each event heading into the weekend championships.
He’s joined in the 1,600 by Josh Mills, who finished third at regionals with a time of 4:26.96 and advances as the ninth-best qualifier from across the state. Mills’ regional time is the third-best qualfying time in the field.
Others representing Sanger at state are Bre Henderson, who won the girls 400 (58.12), and the boys 800 relay team of Kion Evans, Wyatt Broxson, Josh Secrest and Tre’von Jackson. The relay team finished second at the region meet (1:28.85). Madi Wilson rounds out the group; she finished second in the discus (128 feet, 2 inches) and is making her third straight trip to state.
“We had more kids come out this year for our program, which instantly made things more competitive,” Shaw said. “The thing I’ve noticed is we are very well-rounded. Sanger has good throwers, jumpers, long distance kids, too. Many programs can’t say they have that. We are getting better every year.”
The same can be said for Perry, who, with help from long-distance coach Clint Davidson, followed a rigorous approach to the season. Perry’s tour of larger events included the Coppell Relays, where he placed second in the 3,200 with a time of 9:27.43. He also ran the 1,600 in 4:26.11 at the Jesuit-Sheaner Relays and ran in both the Texas Distance Festival and Texas Relays.
While it’s not uncommon for 3A runners to test their skills in larger 5A events, Davidson said he only knew of a handful who did it this year. That includes Decatur standout Taylor Clayton, who is Perry’s stiffest competition for both events at state.
At the region meet, Clayton — who will be a teammate of Perry’s at Texas A&M next year — finished second to Perry in the 3,200 with a time of 9:20.55. It was even closer in the 1,600, where Perry edged Clayton by .01 of a second. Since coming down to compete in the 9-3A/10-3A area meet and at regionals, both have been uncontested because of the stiffer competition at bigger meets.
“It’s just not common for [3A] runners to be in the middle of the pack like Jacob is in those bigger meets,” Davidson said. “I went back and looked and one of his times is better than every 4A kid except for one. When you are at the top of 3A like he is, you’ve got to go higher [to 4A and 5A races] to push yourself. He’s not just shooting to be the top guy in 3A, he wants to be the top [runner] in the state.”
Having seen the best the state has to offer, Perry said he likes his chances this weekend — even against Clayton. Last year, he qualified in the 3,200 but finished third. This is his first year to qualify in the 1,600.
“If I can get down and do what I’m supposed to do and compete, I really believe I can do it,” Perry said of taking gold in both events. “Running in the bigger meets all year, sometimes there are 18-plus runners. Now I’m going down to a much smaller field and I’m focused only on myself out there. I just want to stay relaxed and go for the win.”