Lower Richland sprinter Jaylen Bacon is fast learner

ainelson@ thestate.comMay 13, 2014 

TOP BOYS’ TRACK STARS

Event Mark Athlete Team
100 Meter Dash10.42 Jaylen Bacon Lower Richland
200 Meter Dash 21.16 Tavien Feaster SC Spartanburg
400 Meter Dash 48.08 Jordan Sumpter SC Camden
800 Meter Run1: 55.53 Chad FennellSC Northwestern
1,500 Meter Run 4:41.02 Tyler Fish SC Boiling Springs
1,600 Meter Run 4:13.86 Zack Langston SC Lexington
One Mile Run 4:18.15 Zack Langston SC Lexington
3,000 Meter Run 8:29.14 Brent Demarest SC Porter Gaud
3,200 Meter Run 9:04.25 Brent Demarest SC Porter Gaud
Two Mile Run 10:40.95 Ben Garrett SC Spring Valley
5,000 Meter Run 14:47.57 Gabriel Haughey SC Daniel
110 Meter Hurdles 14.23 Michael Dickson SC Beaufort
300 Meter Hurdles 40.16 Nathan Parker SC Beaufort
400 Meter Hurdles (1,242) 54.67 Trey Stanley SC Northwestern
High Jump (1,008) 6-8 Tyreke Conyers SC Sumter
Long Jump (2,386) 23-3 Desmond Anderson SC Broome
Triple Jump (1,537) 48-7 Dj Ledell SC River Bluff
Pole Vault (876) 15-2 Harrison Hix SC Wren
Discus (2,533) 187-6 Bauvier Jackson SC Broome
Shot Put 54-11 Anthony Friday SC Westwood
4x100 Meter Relay (657) 41.34 Relay Team SC Lower Richland
4xMile Relay (11) 20:17.00 Relay Team SC Blythewood

As an eighth grader, Jaylen Bacon did not know what he was getting into when he joined the Lower Richland track and field team.

A middle schooler whose competitive fire was sparked by foot races with his older cousins, Bacon watched the high school boys run and knew he wanted to run alongside them.

“In middle school, we just ran as fast as we could. We had no idea there were mechanics, we had no idea that we had to work on form,” said Bacon, who also played football.

But Bacon has learned a lot since then, and now the Lower Richland senior is the one setting the bar.

Bacon is among the state’s top sprinters. His season best time of 10.42 seconds in the 100-meter dash is the state’s best this season, and with less than a week before the Class 3A championships, Bacon is still aiming for a faster time.

“It always feels good to see your name at the top with the time, but you realize that times fall all the time,” he said.

“I have to constantly keep working to get the times down.”

Early in the year, Spartanburg’s Tavien Feaster’s 10.66 was the state’s best mark, and Bacon knew he could beat that.

At the state finals on Saturday, Bacon will not be competing with Feaster, who is the frontrunner for the Class 4A title. Bacon is the runner to beat in Class 3A, and he likes it that way.

The finish line of the championship race is not the end of Bacon’s pursuit of excellence, but it will be a long way from where he started.

“When we first got him, he was a really stringy kid with big feet and he sounded almost like a clydesdale when he ran,” said coach Michael Steward, “but he’s light on his feet now.”

From his unassuming start, competition and constructive criticism helped mold Bacon into a championship contender.

“As shy as I was, I didn’t want anybody thinking, ‘hey, he’s just another middle school kid.’ When I see a guy running, I want to be right next to him, I want to show him what I can do,” Bacon said.

Steward said running with kids like Devin Wannamaker and Desmond Wallace served to inspire the youngster, who got a championship ring when the Diamond Hornets won the Class 3A title in 2010 although he did not qualify for any races at the meet.

“I think he saw then what he could accomplish and it helped to motivate him,” Steward said.

Those runners also set him straight.

“My teammates were just completely honest with me, they would tell me that I sucked at this point or that point,” Bacon said. “I didn’t understand, I thought it was just a lot of criticism, but I learned that it wasn’t criticism, it’s them trying to help.”

Steward said Bacon was always willing to work, and to heed instruction, and the payoffs on the track followed swiftly.

“I started winning races here and there. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to get my confidence up,” Bacon said. He said it also affirmed Steward and coach Andrea Hallmon-Lucas’ critiques.

“What they say, I take it to heart and I really come out here and work on that. And to this day, my times have been dropping because I listen to what they say,” he said.

Since ninth grade, Bacon has shaved a second off of his time in the 100 meters—which he won gold in at the 2013 finals with a 10.79 finish—and trimmed 2 seconds from his 200 time since his freshman season.

Last week, along with teammates Brandon Stroman, Larry Collins and Ronald Fuller, Bacon helped set a new school record in the 400 relay, running a 41.33 second race at the Region 4-3A meet to break Lower Richland record set in 1984.

He’s accomplished so much, but Bacon is far from finished.

“Everything that I’ve trained for, everything that I’ve done, is up to these two or three weeks. I’ve got to make it through region, I’ve got to make it through qualifier. I’ve got to win state. This is it,” he said in April.

While his high school career has just a few days remaining, the aspiring Olympian will be running for a long time.

Before heading off to Arkansas State, where he has accepted a scholarship, Bacon would compete in the Meet of Champions—a post-season, inter-league meet sponsored by SCrunners.com.

Then there are the New Balance Outdoor Nationals, where Bacon will compete in the Elite division for the first time.

“We’ve taken Jaylen to the high school nationals, as emerging elite, and he’s done well there. This year, he’s going to have to run with the big dogs,” Steward said.

And Bacon will continue to drop time as he prepares to join the Red Wolves on the Division 1 track.

“Competing collegiately is going to be tough because there is a lot of competition out there. He’s got to get to the 10.2’s 10.1’s,” Steward said. “I think he has the work ethic to do that. He loves to win, and I’m sure he’s going to step up.”

Reach Nelson at (803) 771-8419

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