Going out on top

Published 10:10 am Friday, June 20, 2014

FRANKLIN—Ever since he was younger, Franklin High School’s Marcus Stephens knew he was faster than the other children.

Marcus Stephens of Franklin High School recently won gold in the 100- and 200-meter dash. -- CAIN MADDEN | TIDEWATER NEWS

Marcus Stephens of Franklin High School recently won gold in the 100- and 200-meter dash. — CAIN MADDEN | TIDEWATER NEWS

Then when his coaches on the JV football team saw him running in practice, they told him that he ought to try out for the track team.

That was the 8th grade, and the senior has come a long way since then, improving his finish every single year. And this year he went for it all. ­

At the Virginia High School League Outdoor Track and Field State Championship at Radford University, Marcus Stephens took home gold in both the 100- and the 200-meter dash.

“Last year, I didn’t place first, so I told myself that this year, I was going to keep up that drive to win, and try to win first place, and I did,” he said. “I felt like I had accomplished something.”

The 100-meter is particularly important, said Dennis Sumblin, head boys track coach.

“That is the biggest race at the meet,” he said. “To have an athlete win that, it puts your school up there. That’s what it’s all about — our school and our athletes.”

The 100 has been a particular goal for Stephens.

“I have improved a lot since my freshman year,” he said. “My freshman year, I came in 8th place, and in my sophomore year and junior years, I finished in 5th place. My senior year, I was in first. It was a big improvement.”

Sumblin said he was kind of surprised that Stephens won in the 100.

“To be honest, he shocked me with the 100 meters,” he said. “In the regionals, he got beat, and we knew we had to face the same group of guys.”

One of the guys also beat him in the qualifying rounds, but Sumblin said there was something that gave Stephens confidence.

“In qualifying, Marcus told me that the guy who beat him grabbed his arm while they were running,” he said, adding that the guy did apologize at the end of the race. “The guy just barely beat him then, so I think that gave him the motivation that, ‘Hey, I can beat him.’”

Stephens said it was all about his motivation to win.

“All of the races that I had lost motivated me,” he said. “In running the preliminaries, I knew I had more to give. I am a little surprised I won, but part of me just knew I was going to win. I think it was a confidence thing.”

After losing in the regionals, Sumblin didn’t think Stephens would win it, but then Stephens came to him Saturday morning before the race, and changed his outlook.

“He told me on Saturday that he was ready, and that he was going to win it,” Sumblin said. “I said, ‘Hey, you do what you are supposed to do. You know your abilities and you can get it done.’”

The 200-meter was less in doubt.

“I told him that it was his race to lose,” Sumblin said. “There was not a doubt in my mind.”

At first, Stephens wanted to focus on the 100-meter and skip the 200, but Sumblin pushed him to do more.

“At the conference meet, I looked at all of the numbers, and I told him that we could win this conference,” he said. “So I put him in it, and he blew everyone away.”

Then when he blew everyone away in the regionals, Sumblin knew that Stephens would likely win at the state-level.

“We always talk about winning the championship ring,” he said. “I told him, that the ring is on your knuckle, all you have to do is push it over. So he went there and blew them all away. It was exciting.”

Stephens, along with his teammates Quayshaun Jefferson, Latrell Lane and JaVonte Baker, were also the state runner up in the 4X100 relay.

Baker also came in second for the 200.

That fact excited Mona Sumblin, one of two boys assistant track coaches.

“JaVonte already said he is going to be state champion for the next two years,” she said. “It’s good to have a goal.”

The experience also gave her some hope about the future of the track program with Stephens leaving.

“The athletes from the other schools were saying, ‘Man, those Franklin boys can run,’” Mona Sumblin said. “We’re looking to do some big things with the track team. We’re looking forward to having some invitationals here, and to try and get the middle school program up.

“Marcus has set the bar high, and now we’ve got to get someone to fall in his footsteps.”

Dennis Sumblin said that Stephens was going out on top, and that he hoped it would inspire other Franklin athletes.

“With Marcus being such a good athlete, the younger guys will look up to him and want to be the next one,” he said.

“That’s what you want to do, you want to go out on top. And he is going out a state champion in the 100 meters, and that’s saying a lot.

“So hopefully, with what he’s done, and what we have done as a school, we will build some interest in getting kids to come run.”

The three were also very appreciative to the community for helping build the new track.

“The city and community went out and paid for us to have a track repaved,” Dennis Sumblin said. “I think we did a great job of showing what they did for us, and now Marcus is giving them a state title.”