COLUMBIA — In his first season on the team, Hickman sophomore Wesley Leftwich has accomplished more on the track than many do in four years.
Not even in his wildest dreams did he think he could accomplish what he has. Leftwich qualified to compete in four events at the state track and field competition beginning Friday at Lincoln University in Jefferson City. Leftwich will be competing in the 100-meter dash, the 4x100 relay, the 4x200 relay, and the long jump.
Leftwich’s success on the track is not lost on sprints and hurdles coach Luke Neal.
“I think it is certainly something not many athletes ever do in their career, especially at the Class 4 level," Neal said. "So I think it’s pretty remarkable for his first year with our track program.”
Leftwich first got into track in junior high, but decided not to run as a freshman in high school so he could focus on football. However, reading about Jesse Owens motivated him to run again, and he realized track could also be used to train for football.
“At the beginning I was just doing it to improve in football, but as the season went on I started getting into it,” Wesley said. “It has become one of my top two favorite sports.”
Leftwich’s transition from the gridiron to the track was made smoother by his naturally explosive speed, something that jumps coach Stewart Johnson says you can’t teach. However, the most difficult thing for him was combining those strengths in meets. Something Wesley did for the first time in the district meet.
“I thought I could do it the whole year, but it just hadn’t been clicking until Jeff City, when in the 100 I finished in third place, and I was like wow I can’t believe I got top three when I was projected to get eighth. Now I have confidence that I can do good,” Leftwich said.
In addition to his natural abilities, Leftwich’s calm, quiet and hard working demeanor has helped make him a coach’s dream on the track. Neal said it is his combination of strength and work ethic that make him such a great athlete.
“He does have a pretty good work ethic, and not just in track, but year around in football and the weight room. I think he really enjoys competing,” Neal said.
Leftwich hasn’t always been good at track, there was still a lot to learn when he first stepped foot on the track. Johnson said he has learned not only use his speed, but also how to be consistent. Neal adds that Wesley has come a long way.
“I think he has learned a lot, there’s a lot more to track and field than just go out and run, or go out and jump, just even on the day of a track meet there’s a lot to think about, “ Neal said.
That mental preparation often includes loading up on spaghetti and fries at the G and D restaurant and sleeping at least 10 hours the night before the meet. An ability to prepare for meets is something that coach Neal says they try to instill in all of the Hickman athletes.
However, as well as Leftwich prepares, he says he is still nervous about his first state meet, which is only natural for a high school sophomore.
“I’m pretty nervous, but my teammates who have been at state before just keep me cool and tell me not to think about it too much, and stay relaxed when you’re there,” Leftwich said.
Leftwich will also be accompanied by several of his Hickman teammates who have helped win their district meet May 16. Leftwich hopes to continue that momentum into the tournament, but like always will remain calm and focused.
“I just try to keep level headed, try not to get big headed about things,” Leftwich said. “Just keep cool and do things I been doing all season and just do my best.”