Harper Hudnall is one of the top 300-meter hurdlers in the state.
Harper Hudnall is one of the top 300-meter hurdlers in the state.
MADISON – Must be easy being a track coach, huh? Tell your athletes to run fast, turn left, and repeat as necessary. Simple enough, right?

Hmmm, wrong.

There’s a certain counter-clockwise art to it. It’s part knowledge, part science. Track and field meets are divided into running events, throwing events and jumping events. During a meet, athletes will likely compete in several events in the same category. For example, a sprinter may run in the 100-meter, and 200-meter and also be a part of the 400 meter relay.

Knowing where to place each of those athletes based on their individual abilities, and stacking them in just the right way to accumulate as many points as possible by the end of the day, takes a certain logistical skill set. Not to mention the teaching, motivational and psychological aspects of the job.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into it for sure,” MRA track and field coach John Weaver said. “Each year is different. . .the makeup of your team changes from year to year. It’s just a matter of piecing it all together.”

Weaver, now in his fifth year at MRA, has done just that. A year removed from capturing its first track and field championship in school history, the Patriots have positioned themselves as one of the favorites for this year’s title. Weaver’s 34-man squad has won 10 of the last 11 meets it has entered dating back to last year. The lone loss during that stretch came a couple of weeks ago at a meet hosted by Jackson Prep. MRA was runner-up, losing by only 1-point after coming in second in the last event of the day (1600 meter relay) by a matter of a mere couple of seconds.

The latest victory came this past week at the Patriot Relays, hosted by MRA. Buoyed by strong individual performances throughout the day, the Patriots easily out-distanced themselves from the other 10 teams in the field.

“We had some guys come up big for us,” Weaver said. “I was very pleased.”

Weaver knew he had the makings of another good team this season, but he didn’t know how good. After all, he lost two of his top sprinters, two of his top middle distance runners, a key pole vaulter and high hurdler along with a pivotal long and triple jumper from last year’s championship team. He’s been able to plug those holes, however, and keep MRA on the fast track towards another highly-successful season – one he hopes ends with his team hoisting another blue trophy in a couple of weeks.

“We’ve been fortunate in that everything has kind of come together for us,” Weaver said. “We are really good in the field, we’re good in the hurdles, our shot put and discus guys have come a long way, and our pole vaulters have taken off. We’ve got a lot of depth, and that’s key. The more depth you have the better your chances are because you can keep people fresh. Numbers. . . that’s what won it for us last year.”

The fact that MRA won the title a year ago, and is in the mix again this year, speaks volumes for how far the track and field program has come in recent years. The Patriots have moved up the MAIS track and field food chain each year under Weaver, and they plan on staying at, or near, the top. No looking back. Not only has Weaver established MRA as one of the perennial track and field heavyweights on the state level along with the likes of Jackson Prep, Jackson Academy and PCS, he has turned it into a happening sport on campus.

“We’re going to compete, but I also like for them to have fun,” Weaver said. “It has been a process. It starts at the junior high level and we work up from there. We’ve proven that it can be done; we showed that last year. Now, it’s just a matter of building it to a point where we can sustain that level of success, and compete for championships year in and year out. I really believe there’s another championship to be won this year. Hopefully, we can peak at the right time.”

The Class AAAA Division I state meet will be held April 29-30, followed by the Overall championship meet May 6-7 at Jackson Academy and Jackson Prep.

MRA’s chances of repeating took a big upswing with the return of Harper Hudnall, who injured his knee a year ago limiting him to only two meets early in the year. The versatile, tough-minded senior is one of the top 300-meter hurdlers in the state. He also excels in the long jump, 110-meter high hurdles and anchors the Patriots’ mile relay team.

“It’s been a big plus having Harper back,” Weaver said. “He’s an important piece of the puzzle.”

So, too, is Austin Waldrop. The long-legged senior is primed for a repeat in the high jump. Earlier this year, he set a PR in the event, jumping 6 feet, 7 inches – catching the eye of college recruiters, most notably Mississippi State. Senior Clint Moses, who finished runner-up to Waldrop a year ago, returned last week less than five months removed from ACL surgery on his right knee and, amazingly, jumped 6 feet, 2 inches.

“He just got cleared, and hasn’t been able to practice or anything,” Weaver said, in astonishment. “I really don’t know how he came back as fast as he did, but he did. Crazy.”

Junior Saahdiq Charles, who has already received football scholarship offers from Mississippi State and LSU among others, Hayden Davis (who is also coming off ACL surgery), Simon Corson and Will Valentine handle the shot put and discus duties.

“That’s two areas where we were deficient in,” Weaver said. “But those guys have come a long way. We’ve got two guys throwing over 43 feet now (in the shot), and that’s big.”

A.J. Stone (1-mile/2-mile), Peyton Horton and Jake Reeves (pole vault), Kory Stephens (400m and 200m), Breckon Young (400m, 200m, long jump), Andrew Berry (hurdler/sprinter) and Ethan Evans (800m) are some of the other key contributors.

The Jr. High girls won yet again, remaining undefeated this season. The Lady Patriots have won all six meets they've competed in.

"I'm very proud of these young ladies," MRA coach Melanie Black said. "They've done great this season."