Thursday January 28, 2010From Zero to 60: Florida's Terrell Wilks
Junior sprinter Terrell Wilks.
Junior sprinter Terrell Wilks.
By: Sean Cartell
It was no secret that Terrell Wilks was one of the finest athletes at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Conn. After all, he was an all-state selection as a wide receiver and also excelled on the basketball court.
Less than four years and just more than 1,000 miles later, Wilks is the fastest 60-meter runner in University of Florida school history. As impressive as the trip from the gridiron to the track has been for Wilks, it’s the journey that has been that much more meaningful.
A two-sport athlete in football and basketball, Wilks stumbled upon track after a suggestion from the head coach, who doubled as the speed coach for the school’s football team and recognized his pupil’s innate quickness.
“My senior year, I just kind of decided to do track and run because football had gone so well for me and I was fast,” Wilks said. “The track coach at my high school was the speed coach for the football team and he got me to come out.”
Wilks was a natural at the new sport - he blazed through state titles in the 55m, 100m and outdoor 200m dashes - and was named Connecticut’s Gatorade State Track and Field Athlete of the Year in 2007. He also was tabbed as the Hartford Courant’s Athlete of the Year.
Despite his prep prowess in one year of track and field, Wilks still intended to pursue a football career. But, when those plans didn’t materialize, he contemplated competing collegiate in his newest sport.
“I talked to my high school coach and said that if I was going to run track, there were only a few schools that I really wanted to go to, and the University of Florida was one of them,” Wilks said. “My coach contacted Coach Holloway and I came down for a visit. It all went smooth and I decided to come here.”
Mike Holloway remembers that summer of 2007 when the phone in his office in the L. Gale Lemerand Center rang. After hearing of Wilks’ successes, Holloway knew that he was close to landing a great addition to the team.
“We got a call from his coach over the summer and he wanted to know if I was interested,” Holloway said. “His coach told me his marks and his background and I thought ‘Yes, I’m very interested in that guy.’”
Wilks packed his bags and headed for Gainesville, but Holloway knew his new addition’s speedy times and dominance of the short sprints in the Connecticut high school circuit wouldn’t be enough to carry him through the rigors of the Southeastern Conference and the top-25.
“From a technical standpoint and an experience standpoint, he was an infant in the sport,” Holloway said. “He has a God-given ability, but the biggest thing with him was just teaching him how to be a track athlete, how to manage the race, how to accelerate, how to hold acceleration and things like that.”
Refreshingly, Wilks was a willing pupil, looking past his prep success and focusing on improving his skills as a track athlete.
“I knew I was behind the curve because I was only a year into the sport and other people had been running since sixth grade,” Wilks said. “On my visit, I asked Coach Holloway to be patient with me, and he’s been patient with me the whole time. I just paid attention to what he said and what he asked me to do. He just stayed on me about the little things and those are things I help other people with when they first get here.”
Wilks brought a rock-solid work-ethic to practice coupled with his natural speed that quickly earned the respect of his teammates. But, he says, it was hard at first to believe he was actually lining up next to some of the top names in collegiate track and field.
“It was kind of a culture shock because my freshman year, I made the nationals in the 100 and the year before I had watched the 100 on TV,” Wilks said. “When I got to Florida, I was next to those guys in a race. My freshman year, I was in a race with Walter Dix (FSU), Trindon Holliday (LSU) and all of those guys who headlined the sports. Other than that, it was an easy transition and I was able to gain respect really quick with the guys, and I’m friends with all of them now.”
In the first round of the 100-meter dash at the NCAA Outdoor Championships at Des Moines, Iowa, Wilks posted the fastest time in the qualifying round, clocking a 10.49 into a headwind of -2.7. But, Holloway says, once Wilks realized who he was lining up next to in the semifinal round, that shock kicked in.
“I think it’s always a big difference for these guys when they’re freshmen in a program like this in a league like ours,” Holloway said. “Terrell actually was the fastest guy in the first round, but then in the semifinals, he realized ‘Hey, I’m in this with the big guys.’ What that showed him was how to trust himself.”
That summer, Wilks participated in the USA Junior Championships, tearing through the field and winning the final of the 100-meter dash in a personal-record time of 10.19 and advancing to the IAAF World Junior Championships. For the sophomore-to-be, the victory on a national stage served as a huge confidence-builder.
“I really didn’t expect to do so well,” Wilks said. “When I got over there and I won the 100, it helped my confidence in the sport a lot.”
Fast forward to his sophomore year of 2009 and Wilks eased through the regular season, posting second and third-place finishes at several regular-season events. He finished seventh at the SEC Indoor Championships, a performance that Holloway attributes to a glitch in the training regiment.
A week later at the Virginia Tech Qualifier in Blacksburg, Va., Wilks exploded for a school-record and NCAA automatic-qualifying time of 6.60 in the 60m.
“I had actually made some mistakes in Terrell’s training and his taper was about a week off,” Holloway said. “When we went to Virginia Tech, his PR was 6.72.”
Less than a week later, Wilks clocked another record-setting time of 6.59 in the preliminaries of the NCAA Indoor Championships at College Station, Texas, before earning All-America honors with a third-place national finish (6.61). In a week’s time, Wilks had run the three fastest 60-meter times in school history.
“It’s crazy, but it’s really not that crazy because he’s of that talent,” Holloway said. “Terrell has great size - he’s over 6-foot-2 and that week we really got to see truly how talented he is.”
For a guy who didn’t run track until his senior year in high school, Wilks recorded three times that surpassed a virtual Who’s Who of world-class sprinters on the school’s all-time 60m list, a chart that includes John Capel, Daymon Carroll, Ahmad Jasmine and Bernard Williams.
“At first it didn’t register,” Wilks said. “I had just found the rhythm and I just kept using it. After I looked at the list, I thought ‘Wow!’ I realized how fast I really am and that helped my confidence, too, just letting me know what I’m capable of.”
For Wilks, his individual achievements were fulfilling but, in the bigger picture, he understands that his ultimate goal is to help his team be successful.
“I really like the fact that you have to be an individual to help the team,” Wilks said. “You can be your own person - especially in practices - but at the end, you have to do your individual job to help the team. I really like that.”
Wilks got his chance to contribute in an ultimate team event, the 4x100-meter relay, which captured the SEC Outdoor Championship. After teammate Jeff Demps re-aggravated his hamstring, Holloway was forced to shuffle the relay lineup prior to the NCAA Outdoor Championships, placing veteran hurdler Dennis Martin on the opening leg and Wilks on the third leg.
The Gators wouldn’t be denied, even with a change in the order and composition of the relay. Wilks streaked through the third leg, unofficially Florida’s fastest split, handing the baton to Jeremy Hall for the final straightaway. Hall pulled away for the victory, as the Gators won in a time of 38.57, the third-fastest time in school history.
“I just wanted to run hard and not get caught,” Wilks said. “When we won, it was really exciting and one of the happiest times of my life.”
According to Holloway, Wilks’ impressive leg and smooth hand-off was one of the keys to Florida’s win.
“The amazing thing about it is that Terrell was running the third leg, running the turn and he had the fastest split of the relay,” Holloway said. “He is so competitive. Texas A&M was on our inside and trying to get by and Terrell was determined not to let them get by. What you saw there was not just a great athlete, but a great competitor and that’s what makes him special.”
With an individual national championship under his belt, Wilks enters the 2010 season with a renewed energy to help his team capture conference and national titles.
“I want to win as a team,” Wilks said. “We got second four times last year and I just want to use my personal achievements to help the team win.”
And Wilks knows his leadership abilities off the track are just as important as his record-setting times, his coach says.
“Terrell is just a great teammate,” Holloway said. “He understands that the things you do Monday through Friday show up on Saturday at meets; the things you do all year long show up at championships. He really understands what it takes to be a great sprinter and also understands you can’t do it part time. He really pushes his teammates to be the same way.”
For the school-record-holder who is entering his fourth year as a track and field athlete, the sky is the limit. As his confidence builds, so too does that of his teammates.
“I have really enjoyed watching Terrell mature,” Holloway said. “He is starting to believe he can be a great track guy. I think when he first got here, he just felt he was fortunate to have a scholarship at a school like the University of Florida and wanted to do his part to help the team.
“Now, Terrell wants to be a guy who’s not only a leader on the track, but off the track.”
END OF REPORT