Nelsonville-York track and field coach Noah Watkins has been around numerous student athletes over the years.
The veteran coach, who is also an assistant in football, had high praise when it came to Nelsonville-York freshman Makhi Williams.
“He’s definitely one of the most mature freshmen I’ve been around in coaching and teaching because he is just like a sponge,” Watkins said. “Even in the classroom and out here on the track and on the football field, whatever you say he understands it. He listens and you can tell that he’s actually listening and understanding it and comprehending it.”
Williams has the accomplishment to back up the lessons he has learned in his first varsity track and field season.
Williams will run in the Division III OHSAA State Track and Field Championships on Saturday at Westerville North High School.
Williams is one of two Nelsonville-York athletes to compete this weekend, as junior Braydin McKee will also compete in the high jump.
Williams will run in the 200 meter dash as a freshman. Watkins said Williams is the first ninth-grader at Nelsonville-York to qualify for the state meet.
“Really grateful,” Williams said of the achievement. “A lot of dedication and hard work.”
Williams was a regional qualifier in both the 100 and 200, but decided to focus in on the 200 in last week’s meet at Southeastern High School.
“In the 100, I’m not that great at the start,” he said. “But in the 200, I can get my speed up.”
Williams is peaking at the right time, as he has surpassed his personal best time in every 200 meter run of the postseason.
Williams clocked in at 23.54 seconds in the district prelims, 23.39 in the district finals, 22.95 in the regional prelims and finally 22.72 seconds in last Friday’s regional finals.
“A lot of the competition there, a lot of great athletes,” Williams said. “It was unbelievable.”
Watkins said Williams’ demeanor has helped him achieve new PRs in four consecutive races.
“He really stepped up,” Watkins said. “I think that just go to his maturity. He just has this mentality that he’s excited about this, but he’s also cool and calm at all times. He’s just relaxed.”
The 200 meter prelims on Friday will begin at 5:20 p.m. Williams is in lane five in the first of three heats.
The top two in each heat, plus the next two fastest times will advance to Saturday’s finals.
Williams’ regional time is the eighth best in the field, putting him right on the bubble to qualify for Saturday’s final.
“He’s on that trajectory that hopefully he just PRs at the state meet and whatever happens after that, we can just roll with it,” Watkins said. “He just keeps improving and I think it’s because of his hard work and dedication.”
The fastest time in last week’s regional meets across Division III belongs to Tuscarawas Valley senior Tyler Stump at 22.20 seconds.
Williams is the only freshman competing in the 200 meter field, as every other qualifier is a junior or senior.
Being a freshman hasn’t stopped Williams from experiencing success this season, and he will look for a spot on the podium, and an all-Ohio finish this weekend.
Saturday’s 200 meter final is scheduled to begin at 3:45 p.m.
“Just trying to PR, trying to get top eight, all-Ohio,” Williams said.
Williams’ Bukeye teammate Braydin McKee will compete on Saturday at 10 a.m. in the Division III high jump.
McKee was able to withstand the pressure of a jump off in last week’s regional meet at Southeastern to keep his season alive.
McKee and Waterford’s Holden Dailey were in a dead heat, with each clearing 5 feet, 10 inches but missing at 6 feet.
They each missed their attempt at 5-10 during the jump off, and then had to with for the rest of the competition to be completed.
“We actually hung around for another half hour, 45 minutes which added to the nerves,” Watkins said. “We were talking back and forth, trying to give him more confidence that he could do it because he is a phenomenal athlete.”
When McKee and Dailey had a chance to resume the jump off, they each cleared 5-10 on the first try.
That moved the bar up to 5-11. McKee cleared it, and when Dailey didn’t, McKee was moving to state competition.
Watkins said McKee has incredible potential in the high jump that he is still trying to realize. Losing last season due to the COVID cancelation denied McKee that valuable experience, then most of his winter season was spent as a high flyer on the basketball court instead of competing in indoor track.
“He has this amazing ability to jump,” Watkins said. “It’s getting him to keep the bend because he wants to snap on the bar, where if you watch some of his jumps, you see him jump and he’s a 6-3, 6-4 high jumper just waiting to happen.”
McKee will get the valuable experience of competing in the state tournament on Saturday. He will have to get loose in a hurry, as the competition starts at 5-10, whereas last week’s regional meet began at 5-8.
The field doesn’t have a clear-cut favorite based off of last week’s statewide results. Only New Madison Tri-Village junior Layne Sarver cleared 6-4.
There were two others at 6-3, six more at 6-2 and eight more at 6 feet.
McKee’s best jump this season is 6 feet, which he did at the district level. He could sneak up on the field if he realizes the potential of a 6-2 jump this weekend, which Watkins said is very possible.
“I’m hoping that being at that state meet, knowing that he’s one of the best jumpers and he finished third in indoor at high jump, hopefully he gets that confidence and carries it on,” Watkins said.
“He’s just a pure athlete. He’s a good kid too. He’s a fun kid to be around.”
The state track meet will look different this year, as it won’t be held at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium due to COVID restrictions making the venue unavailable.
The three divisions are at different central Ohio high schools, as the Division I meet is at Hilliard Darby and the Division II meet is at Pickerington North.
Watkins and the Buckeyes will be at Westerville North. The meet won’t be on as grand a scale as the scene that normally awaits athletes at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, but Watkins said it will be a great atmosphere for the athletes nonetheless.
“It’s still a great opportunity for these kids,” Watkins said. “Westerville North has a great facility, been there a couple times just not for track meets. I think they’re going to be a great place to compete. I’m just really exited for these kids. They’ve put the time in. Doesn’t matter if there’s five people there or 5,000, I hope they enjoy it and hopefully they get to experience next year at Jesse Owens.”