The Guyer boys track team endured a big change after the season began when head coach Oschlor Flemming left in March to become head football coach at Fort Bend Dulles and was replaced by Russ Phillips.
Guyer’s 800-meter relay team was dealt some changes of its own in the midst of its journey to the UIL state track and field meet in Austin, which begins today.
After running the third leg of the relay and being a key component of the team’s success through its winning effort at the District 5-4A meet, Jerrod Heard could not make the trip to Abilene for the Class 4A Region I meet.
That put junior Victor Hubbard in the picture as the leadoff leg, while freshman Logien Franklin moved to Heard’s spot. Then, Franklin was injured before the preliminary heat and was replaced by another freshman, Christian Moore. Franklin returned for the final and helped Guyer to a winning run, taking the regional title in 1:26.93.
“It was very satisfying,” Phillips said of the team’s win in Abilene. “Not to take anything away from Jerrod, but it was good for those other kids to see that they could still do it. That was a big doubt in some of their minds. It was a struggle convincing some of those guys we could still get to state. We were right off the pace of our best time of the year.”
At one point this season, the team had a national top-10 time. Three of the teams competing against Guyer tonight are still in the top 10: Texarkana Texas (No. 3), Lancaster (No. 5) and Brenham (No. 7).
Guyer enters the race with the fifth-best qualifying time.
“We’re right there in the middle of the pack,” Phillips said. “Our goal is get into the 1:25s. Hopefully we can get down there and everyone else runs a bit slower, and we’ll see what happens.”
The main constant on the team over time has been senior Jalen Hunter, who in February signed with Tennessee on a track scholarship as a hurdler. He also will compete today in the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles. He has the top qualifying time in the 110 hurdles and the third-best time in the nation.
Phillips praised Hunter for his leadership ability in helping guide Hubbard, Franklin and junior Anthony Taylor. Those four are set to run the relay today.
Hunter, who quit football after his sophomore season to concentrate on track, said he was ready for the leadership role last summer.
“I started practicing for this in August, so everyone is trying to get to where I am,” Hunter said. “Everyone is trying to find their way, and I just want to be sitting there helping people however I need to.”
Hunter competed in the same three events at the state meet last year, finishing fourth in the 110 hurdles, fifth in the 300 hurdles and seventh in the 800 relay, for which Taylor was an alternate.
“He’s a good leader,” said Taylor, who other than Hunter is the only member of the relay team returning from last year. “He leads us around when times are bad. He always steps up to the plate and leads us.
“It’s nice for me to be back there [in Austin] again, and now I’ll actually be running instead of watching like last year. It’s going to be a good experience.”
Other than anchoring the relay team and being a team leader, Hunter’s job is to keep up with the competition, something he enjoys.
“I don’t know how much time the kids spend looking at times,” Phillips said. “I know Jalen probably does, but the other kids, if I went and asked who had the best time going in they probably couldn’t tell you.”
Hunter knows exactly what his team needs to do to be in medal contention tonight. First, it needs to accomplish its goal of breaking into the 1:25 range. Second is to catch Texas High and Lancaster.
“Coach Phillips’ goal is for us to run a 1:25, and our goal is to try to get up there with Texas High and Lancaster,” Hunter said. “They’re running 1:24s. If we can get it right, get our handoffs perfect and get around the track, I think we can run a 1:24, too. If we do that, we can win it all.”