Thursday, April 25, 2013

Batson Emerges As Top SEC Sprinter

The world’s fastest human, at least in sanctioned races in 2013, hails from Elk Grove, Cal.

Now wearing the crimson colors of the University of Alabama, former Laguna Creek High School sprinter Diondre Batson has blazed down the lanes of the Southeastern Conference tracks this spring in times that not only have coaches and fans blinking in amazement, but those stopwatches are recording times that are the best the world has seen thus far in 2013.

His 10.06 seconds sprint in the 100 meters at a collegiate meet in Georgia on April 12 not only was the fastest he’s ever covered that distance, but the third best ever in the storied history of track and field at Alabama.
Alabama's Diondre

“He has tremendous potential and showed that today,” Tide’s sprints and hurdles coach Matt Kane said after Batson’s race that day. 

Because of that performance, Batson was named the SEC’s Athlete of the Week.

It was the spring of 2010 when as a senior at Laguna Creek that Batson started to show he can really run. That year his 10.44 seconds time in the 100 meters was the best in the state of California. Plus, Batson’s 200-meter time of 21.28 seconds at an April 10, 2010 event was the best that year nationwide amongst all high school sprinters.

But, then Batson’s hopes for a gold medal (or two) in the CIF State Track and Field Meet were dashed.

It came during the Delta Valley Conference meet where Batson and the Cardinal team of sprinters were counting on easily advancing to the Division I meet.

He didn’t.

“In the first round of  the 200 and coming out of the turn my hamstring just gave out,” Batson recalled.

He just couldn’t continue. The hamstring pull was too bad and with that out the window flew any chance of being a state champion sprinter.

Batson admitted last week in an interview with the Citizen while he and his Crimson Tide teammates were preparing for the heralded Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, that the weeks and even months that followed the injury at the DVC meet were some of the darkest he’s ever experienced.

“I didn’t even run for months after that,” he admitted. “I was completely heartbroken.”

Batson credited his ARC coach, Mike Reid,  with encouraging him to continue his track and field career, so he enrolled at American River College.

“It was very beneficial and fun,” he said of his two springs of running there.

Under his leadership, that school’s team found great success on the track, competing at several events alongside of NCAA Division I teams. He set the school record for the 100 meters (10.10 seconds) and the 200 meters (20.50 seconds) last spring.

In 2011, Batson teamed up with Bracin Walker, Greg Turner and Keven Brown to set the American River school record of 39.78 seconds in the 4x100 meter relay.

And, Batson was given the opportunity to continue his other career, that of a speedy wide receiver in football. Playing for the Beavers in 2010 he caught 15 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns.

He said when Alabama came calling a year ago, it was easy for him to say yes to run track for second-year coach Dan Waters.

“Their facilities are the best I’ve ever seen,” Batson said. The college just finished a refurbishing of a stadium dedicated solely to track and field.

Like he did at Laguna Creek and American River, he’s also on the 4x100 and 4x400 meter relay teams at Alabama.

“The 4x100 is third in the nation at 39.13 (seconds),” Batson said.

He did try to talk to Alabama football coach Nick Sabin about giving him a chance to play for the Tide after he arrived in Tuscaloosa.

 No luck.

“He won’t let anyone play another sport,” Batson described his plea to play for the perennial gridiron power. “If you play football, he wants you to only play football,”

The Tide’s track team is currently ranked 19th in the nation, but there are six other SEC teams ranked ahead of them, Florida (No.1), Texas A&M (No.2), Arkansas (No. 3), Georgia (No. 7), LSU (No. 10) and Mississippi (No. 16).

Last Saturday, Batson won the 100 meter race at the LSU Alumni gold meet at Baton Rouge, LA.

Just being a student at Alabama is a special experience, too.

“They have counselors and monitors all over the place to make certain you get good grades and do all your assignments,” Batson said. “We have study halls, plus you have to sign in when you come into room. They have cameras to make sure you don’t sneak out. If you do you won’t be allowed to compete in the next game.”

Batson knows beyond the tracks of the Southeast Conference he’s got a future in the sport, starting as soon as this summer when he’ll try out for the U.S. National team to compete in the World Track and Field Championships later in the year.

The only negative about running track 2,500 miles away is that he’s not close at all to family.

“I miss my mom,” he admitted. “But, she was just here for one of my meets.”

She knows something about the sport, too. Sonja Batson was a track athlete at the University of Oklahoma.

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