Talk about coming out of nowhere to make an impact. Jerrod Willoughby of Strasburg will have some wonderful stories to tell of his track escapades from 2018.
One of the biggest and most pleasing surprises at this year’s Div. III track and field regional competition at Perry High School on Friday, May 25 came from Willoughby, who squared off with a deep and talented pool in the 800-meter finals. Willoughby hung tough early on and put himself in position to gain a spot at state, only to come up just shy when he placed fifth in 2:00.68, close to three seconds behind the fourth-place finisher and state qualifier Colt Hemphill of East Canton.
“That one is pretty tough to take,” Willoughby said of his near miss. “I knew I would have to push myself, but I really thought I had a shot at moving on. I just came up a little short.”
A junior, Willoughby will return next season to try to find that one additional spot that would allow him to advance to state. However, there is one huge difference between the Strasburg junior and the rest of the competition around him in the 800. While those other competitors have been at their trade for years, Willoughby hadn’t run track at all prior to this season.
“This is my first year of running track,” Willoughby said. “My coach saw me running, and she kind of talked me into it. I figured, ‘Why not? Let’s go see what I can do.’ Now I regret not taking it up a little earlier.”
While it was a disappointing finish, Willoughby said the podium placement will only inspire him to work and train harder for next season, something he has never had to do prior to this year because he is new to track and field.
“This was a big experience for me,” Willoughby said. “I never really gave any thought to reaching the regional level at any point this season. It just kind of happened. I feel like there is a lot of room for growth now that I know what to work on.”