The Columbus North boys track and field team will try for its first Conference Indiana title tonight, and the Bull Dogs will be led by a group of athletes who also have shined on the football field the past three years.
North football coach Tim Bless can’t technically require his players to run track in the spring, but he strongly encourages it if they aren’t involved with another spring sport.
“It’s huge,” Bless said. “Obviously, football is more and more about speed and making them faster. Participating in a sport that clearly develops speed goes hand-in-hand with football.”
North’s best chances for individual victories tonight are with senior Mitchell Burton in the long jump, 100 meters and 200; senior Triston Perry in the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles, junior Jaylen Flemmons in the 400 and junior Brigham Kleinhenz in the pole vault. Seniors Coleman Tennyson and Hunter Wolford are among the top shot putters.
All six of those players are standout football players. That includes Burton, an All-State running back who is headed to Miami (Ohio) to play football.
“I was mainly just a football guy up until eighth grade, and a lot of my friends ran track,” Burton said. “I knew I was fast, so I thought I’d go out and try it. I realized each year, it helped me build speed, and it helped out a lot on the football field.”
Burton finished fifth in the state in the long jump last season. Perry, the quarterback on the football team, was a state qualifier in the 110 hurdles last year and an All-Conference Indiana football player this fall.
Tennyson and Wolfred anchored the Bull Dogs’s defensive unit as the defensive tackles. Tennyson was an All-Conference Indiana and honorable mention All-State football player and plans to play football at Tiffin (Ohio).
“(Shot put) is a lot of hips, and D-line is a lot of hip explosion, so it kind of transfers over into throwing,” Tennyson said. “(Tuesday) night, I had a rough meet, but that’s OK. Hopefully, I can come out (today) a conference champ.”
Juniors Damon Hunter Jr. and Cortez Bandy, who were starting defensive backs in the fall, have teamed with Flemmons and Burton to come within a tenth of a second of setting the school record in the 4×100 relay.
Flemmons, who was an honorable mention All-Conference football player this year, ran the open 400 for the first time in last week’s dual meet against Columbus East and pulled out a victory.
“I first started running track so I could get faster and be in better shape for football season,” Flemmons said. “But then, I also became really good at (track), so I started liking it a lot more.”
Flemmons, a wide receive in football, also plays basketball in the winter. Kleinhenz, a linebacker, also is a two-time semistate qualifer in wrestling.
Bless noted that those six players have been good in track athletes for a long time, dating back to their middle school years, and they’ve done nothing but gotten bigger, faster, stronger throughout high school.
“Football and track feed off of each other, and we have a good relationship between the two programs,” North track coach Lou Sipe said. “They work tremendously hard. They had a lot of success this past football season. They’re very talented athletes, so that stems well for both football and track.”
The Bull Dogs’ success in the sprints, hurdles and field events this season is a sharp contrast to just a few years ago when they didn’t have a lot of talent in those areas and were a distance-heavy team. But Sipe, a former assistant football coach, has gotten football players to commit to track, with much help from Bless.
North, ranked No. 15 in this week’s Indiana Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches poll, figures to compete with No. 14 and host Bloomington North and No. 20 Bloomington South, for the conference title tonight.
“I feel pretty confident going into it,” Burton said. “It seems like over the past few weeks, we’ve had a lot more depth and a bunch of different events that we were struggling with at the beginning of the year.”
What: Conference Indiana boys and girls track meet
When: 5 p.m. today
Where: Bloomington North High School
Teams: Columbus North, Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Franklin Central, Perry Meridian, Southport, Terre Haute North, Terre Haute South