As individuals, Basil Muhammad, David Dixon, Jarrett Baptiste and D’Aireus Mock boast all-conference and all-state citations. Together, they are something more special. They are fastest quartet in Columbia Heights school history.
Their 4x100-meter relay time of 43.23 seconds was good for third at the Class 2A state track and field meet last June. Last year’s congratulations from teachers, friends and classmates morphed into preseason expectations. Nothing can trump the group’s own desire for even greater success, however.
“I’m really excited,” Mock said. “I’m pretty sure the two teams ahead of us were mostly seniors. So first place is our goal.”
While the they certainly are fast, they are incapable of fast-forwarding to the state meet finals. In the meantime, the fleet-footed four plan to make the most of each training session and every meet. Coaches hope others follow their lead.
Assistant coach Russell Gary, in his 12th year with the program, said, “We used to have 10 guys sometimes and we didn’t score a point for about three years in a meet. Columbia Heights track was a joke, to be honest. Then this group of guys came and everything started changing.”
Coaches brought Muhammad to the fold as the leadoff runner last spring.
Muhammad’s days often don’t end after track practice. He works part time at Wal-Mart. His performances draw from work ethic and quiet intensity.
“I judge a lot before a race, looking around and telling myself, ‘It’s not possible for me to lose; It’s not an option,’ ” Muhammad said. “Plus, the Heights hasn’t done anything like this in a long time so it’s actually very important for me to win.”
Said coach Casey Baustian: “You can’t see the nerves on Basil. He’s the one who I wouldn’t want to race against.”
The baton first changes hands in about 11 seconds as Muhammad hands off to Dixon.
“David’s a rocket coming out,” Baptiste said. “You’re not going to find many 220-pound dudes that can move as fast as he can.”
Dixon’s family home sits a block from school, making it the preferred hangout for a tight group.
“We’re almost always together,” Dixon said. “I think it helps to know each other so well.”
Dixon passes the baton to Baptiste, whose signature stride makes teammates take notice.
“I can see him all the way across the track, his legs stretching out,” Muhammad said.
Long strides help Baptiste excel at running the curve.
When it comes to sheer explosiveness, Mock is without peer.
“To be the anchor you have to want it the most,” Dixon said. “When he runs, his eyes are on the finish line and he wants it bad.”
Like Muhammad, Mock’s speed comes from within.
“My mind-set is, no matter how far we’re behind, there’s not one person I can’t catch,” Mock said. “If I’m in the lead then I will keep the lead.”
Leaving a legacy
The group is grounded by the reality that their state performance almost wasn’t. They grabbed the ninth and final spot in the state preliminaries after initially fearing they were out.
Regrouping at Dixon’s house, the four “talked for hours about how we could have did this better or did that better,” Baptiste said. “Then we practiced and we got it down. We were focused from there on out.”
The reward came on the podium, getting medals placed around their necks for a satisfying third-place finish.
“It was like, ‘We belong,’ you know?” Dixon said. “We belong with the best runners in the state of Minnesota. It was one of the top moments of my athletic career. I was really proud to be up there.”
An encore is in the works. Muhammad joked during football season that his relay mates should go out of bounds to avoid injury. During daily hallways sprints for wrestling, Muhammad said, “I also kept track in the back of my mind.”
Track season finally is upon them. But it takes a marathon to ensure sprint success.
“Before this season even started, every time we went to school we’d hear, ‘You guys going to win state?’ We’ll just have to wait and see what comes,” Baptiste said. “We have to keep working. No days off.”