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Block buster

Sprint specialist Gatlin Lawson takes his place among state, national elite

Posted: April 18, 2018 2:38 p.m.
Updated: April 20, 2018 1:00 a.m.
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L-E’S GATLIN LAWSON HOPES to improve on his second-place finish in the 100-meter dash last year’s 4A state track and field championship.

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Speed. You either have it or, you don’t.

When the question was posed to Gatlin Lawson as to what makes him so fast, the Lugoff-Elgin junior paused, shrugged his shoulders and smiled. It was a query which he had no answer for other than it being a gift which he has successfully nurtured over the past few years.

“My parents argue about that,” Lawson with a laugh as to from which side of his family he gets his speed.

Just a few days removed from running the 60-yard dash against the fastest high schoolers from 40 states and Canada at the New Balance Indoor Nationals at the Armory in New York City earlier this year, Lawson slowed down enough to take a seat inside a coaches’ office at L-E to discuss his rapid rise in the track world.

Last spring, Lawson finished second in the 100-meter dash at the South Carolina High School League state meet. His final time of 10.91 seconds was .17 seconds behind winner Ronald Fuller from Lower Richland. Last Saturday, at the Bojangles Classic held inside Harry Parone Stadium at Spring Valley High School, Lawson lowered his 100 time to 10.51, finishing only behind Dreher’s Jacory Patterson, who stopped the clock in 10.40 seconds.

Inside his 5-foot-10, 150-pound frame, Gatlin Lawson has a motor which won’t quit until he finds himself in the center box on the podium flanked by the runners who trailed him in second and third place at ther state meet. 

Almost a Johnny-come-lately to track, Lawson, who doubles as a receiver on Matt Campbell’s football team in the fall, has made a quick impression once he places his feet inside the starting blocks; something which he just started doing less than two years ago at the urging of his parents.

“My ninth grade year,” he said, “my parents wanted me to run track. I didn’t really start until my 10th grade year, when I got a trainer and put my time and effort into it.”

As a freshman, Lawson won the Region 4-4A 100-meter dash title with a time of 10.79 seconds. Last year, he lowered that to 10.66 in finishing third behind Fuller (10.38) and Patterson (10.42) in the Bob Jenkins Track Classic at Dutch Fork High School. The bad news is that both Fuller and Patterson are seniors and will probably be lining up beside Lawson in next month’s 4A meet. Let’s just say that Lawson welcomes the opportunity to compete against the two sprinters who have quickly become his rivals.

Lawson said he keeps up with the times which Patterson and, mainly, Fuller have been posting. It gives the youngest of the three sprinters something to shoot for in May.

“I want to win state this year,” Lawson said matter-of-factly. “I have the same competition as last year, a guy named Ronald Fuller who has committed to (South) Carolina. It’s very good competition but, I’m trying to beat him this year.”

Before he took to the track at Lugoff-Elgin Stadium for the spring season, Lawson received his first opportunity to run in a national meet when he competed at the New Balance Indoors. The yearly event drew some 3,500 competitors. Lawson faced a sterling field in the 60-yard dash. In order to qualify for the New Balance in the 60 meters, runners had to post a time of 7.04 seconds or, lower. Lawson, who competes in about four indoor meets in the winter, ran a 6.83 in one event which punched his ticket into the international meet.

Accompanied to New York by his personal coach, Keenan High’s Charles Proctor, the pair set a goal of running 6.78 seconds in the prelims. Lawson ran a personal best 6.79, “which was fine for me,” he said. Hoping to lower his time to 6.73 in the semifinals, a bad start from the blocks prevented Lawson from making his way into the finals. He returned from the Big Apple better for his stay there.

“The experience was great,’ he said with a smile. “Seeing all the athletes with the times that came in was amazing. The competition was the best that I’ve ever run against.”

Lawson is someone who thrives on competition as evidenced by his playing football in the fall. 

The Demon offense is, traditionally, one which has been built on the running game with the passing game mixed in to keep defenses honest.

In Lawson, L-E has a deep threat who could go the distance each time he gets his hands on the ball. As a sophomore, he scorched the Camden secondary by catching three passes for 81 yards --- including a 68-yard touchdown --- in his varsity debut. In a season cut short by injury, Lawson finished with six catches for 185 yards (30.8 yards/catch) and two trips into the end zone in 2016. 

Last fall, Lawson was on the receiving end of 12 passes which he took for 494 yards (41.2 yards/catch) and three touchdowns. The Demons also used his speed at running back as he had six carries for 76 yards with half of those runs resulting in a touchdown.

Campbell said Lawson is more than just a track athlete who helps out the football team in his spare time.

“I think Gatlin’s greater future is in track,” Campbell admitted. “He is fast and you can tell by his national rankings, whether it’s indoor or outdoor track, that he’s a special athlete.

“He’s a guy who, with that kind of speed, you want to get the ball into his hands. What we did in the past with Gatlin has been to get him the deep ball. He has the knack and the speed to get behind the defender; it’s a simple as that. It’s just a matter of whether the quarterback can throw it that far. If he breaks contain, nobody’s going to catch him.”

Sheepishly admitting that his football days will probably end after high school, Lawson said he has no desire to play the sport in college even though more than one school would probably like to see what he could do at the college level, with his game-breaking speed.

“For me, I’d have to go with track. I just love it,” he said of his favorite sport. “I don’t mind taking hits for the (football) team but, I love track.”

His willingness to work in all facets of the game rather than be a one-hit wonder who simply runs vertical routes has impressed his head football coach.

“Gatlin’s not a big guy. He’s not someone who you want to pound up the middle. You have to know how to use him,” Campbell said. “He loves the hitting. One of his favorite drills is ‘Oklahoma’ (a drill in which ball carriers go at defenders in a closet-like, one-on-one setting.) 

“I know that his dad kind of cringes at the thought of it but, Gatlin loves the contact.”

While training for track does not include getting hit, Lawson said is it not exactly a walk in the park.

“Training is tough. It’s terrible,” he said with a wry smile. “Training for track is more conditioning. It’s sprint distance, pretty much, and it’s more mental than anything … it kills your legs.”

Lawson tries to get to Columbia to work under Proctor as often as possible. The workout regiment depends on its proximity to the next meet. In the days leading up to a race, coach and student will work on getting away from the starting blocks. Other days might involve more conditioning work.

In the spring, Lawson specializes in the 100-meter and 200-meter dash races along with the 4 x 100-meter and, sometimes, the 4 x 400-meter relay races on which he runs anchor. “My coach wants me to run a 400 every one in a while but, that’s a sucky race,” he said with a laugh while showing his disdain for the longer event.

Colleges have started checking on Lawson who was invited to attend a junior track day at North Carolina State University. Proctor, he said, is also getting in touch with track coaches from colleges throughout the Southeast region on Lawson’s behalf.

With a goal of wanting to run track in college, Lawson said the work which gets an athlete there starts now. And training must be put in regardless of the day, the weather conditions or, how he feels.

 “Some days,” he said, “you know you don’t want to run but, you have to. On other days, I’m ready to get out there and show people what you can do.”

Judging by his times and results thus far, obviously, there have been a lot more of those “other days” for Gatlin Lawson.


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