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ONE LAST CHANCE: Back From Injury, Walker Has Eyes on NCAA Finals

May 29, 2014

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

Everett "Tiny" Walker was having his best year ever when separate hamstring injuries on both legs derailed him at the end of the indoor season and start of the outdoor season last spring.

"The reason it was so frustrating is because I had had the best indoor season ever, running 20.8 (in the 200 meters) and being ranked like No. 4, and then getting hurt right before nationals," he said.

A year later, though, the fifth-year Baylor senior from Fort Worth, Texas, calls the chance to start over "a blessing."

"Knowing that I was going to get to run with Trayvon Bromell, you just don't understand how excited I was," Walker said of the Baylor freshman sprinter that is ranked second nationally in the 100 meters with a time of 10.01 seconds and ran a wind-aided 9.77 at the Big 12 Championships. "I was like, 'Oh man, we're going to have a good team.' Me coming back healthy and having to start all the way over was a blessing."

If there's any jealousy over Bromell stealing the spotlight and becoming the Bears' featured sprinter, Walker certainly doesn't show it. Although he's got four years and a ton of experience on him, Walker says Bromell "motivates me to run even faster."

"He's a stud, he's an amazing athlete," said Walker, who will compete in the 100 and 200 meters and join Bromell on the 4x100 relay at the NCAA West Prelims that begin Thursday in Fayetteville, Ark. "And the thing about Trayvon is he eats, drinks and sleeps track and field. That's all he's thinking about, and that's why I love Trayvon Bromell. To be honest, it's a blessing to practice with him. Some people don't have that opportunity to practice with somebody so good, who goes like 9.7 or even 10.01. That's what pushes me to run even faster."

Granted a medical hardship waiver after running in just two outdoor meets last year, Walker has made the best of his second chance. He is ranked ninth in the region and 15th nationally with a time of 10.19 in the 100 meters and 32nd nationally at 20.81 in the 200.

"Early on, I didn't feel like he had had his legs under him for racing," said associate coach Mike Ford, who works with the Baylor sprinters. "I just think the more races he gets, his body keeps getting a little stronger. As the weeks go by, he's getting a little stronger, more fit; he's getting in race shape."

With his indoor eligibility used up last year, Walker's debut came at the TCU Invitational, where he was third in the 100 and fifth in the 200 in wind-aided times of 10.17 and 20.68, respectively. But it wasn't until last month's Michael Johnson Classic, when he won his 100-meter heat and was first among collegiate athletes with a wind-legal time of 10.32, that he felt, "OK, I'm getting back to myself."

"At the end of races, I could feel myself going dead," he said. "I'd run the 4x1 and feel myself dying at 80 meters; or ran the 100 and feel myself dying at 70 meters. But when that meet came, I didn't feel myself die one time. I got to the 80, and I didn't die at all."

It was at that same meet that the men's 4x100 relay was on pace to possibly break the school record (38.98). But Bromell, running the anchor leg for the first time, took off early and got the baton from Walker out of the pass zone.

"I think he was just over-excited," Walker said. "He was trying to get the 4x1 record, and he was just thinking too much. I saw him leave, and I was like, 'Oh, no!' And him already being as fast as he is, I knew I wasn't going to catch him."

The same thing happened at the Big 12 Championships two weeks ago in Lubbock, where Bromell got out early again and had to completely stop before the end of the pass zone to get the handoff. And they still ran 39.49 to win the event.

"Some teams run 39.4 with perfect handoffs," Walker said. "We ran 39.4 with Trayvon turning around and actually stopping like the 4x4. Everybody knows that 38 is not out of reach. Us going 39.4 with bad handoffs, we're going to get it."

Walker helped the men's team finish fourth overall with 93 points, finishing second in the 200 meters with a wind-aided time of 20.32 and fourth in the 100 with a sizzling time of 9.98. That's the same race where Bromell ran the third-fastest all-conditions collegiate time of 9.77 with a strong wind behind him.

"I didn't think I was ever going to run that fast," said Walker, who had set the school record with a time of 10.12 time as the runner-up at the 2012 Big 12 Championships. "It didn't matter if I had a 6.0 or 7.0 (wind behind me), I never thought I'd go under 10. So me going under 10, I was like, 'Oh, I'm ready.'''

Although the 20.32 time in the 200 was a personal best, Walker said he was "still sad, because as a senior, I wanted to win at least one individual championship."

"But the main goal is nationals," he said. "Whatever happened at conference doesn't matter anymore. It's about regionals and nationals. My main goal now is to make it out of regionals, make it to the national finals and win nationals."

Walker, of course, is not alone. Baylor has a total of 34 entries - 22 on the women's side, 12 on the men - competing in the NCAA West Prelims and vying for a top-12 spot to get to the NCAA Finals site in Eugene, Ore.

"Your motivation is I want to get to Eugene," said Baylor head coach Todd Harbour. "This is our survival time. You're coming off the high of the Big 12 meet, where it was a great crowd, a great environment and our athletes really stepped up. And some of them may have been influenced by that. Now, it's back to, 'All right, guys, if you want to be in Oregon, where you're going to get to compete in front of the most knowledgeable and greatest track crowd in the United States, this is what you've got to do.' You've got to get to that next place."

The Baylor women are ranked 12th nationally and have 11 athletes or relays ranked among the top 12 in the NCAA West region, while the men are ranked 15th and have eight top-12 marks in the region.

Bromell leads the way for the men with a region-leading and No. 2 national time in the 100 meters, while Tiffani McReynolds is first nationally in the 100-meter hurdles with a school-record time of 12.63.

"We're fortunate that we have some athletes high enough on that list that they should be there," Harbour said. "Barring injury and any kind of crazy things happening, we could have maybe the best group we've ever taken to the NCAA meet, the finals. . . . We didn't have a very good finish last year. We came off of a pretty good conference meet and a couple injuries. Right now, we're about as healthy as we've been headed in. So, hopefully we can stay there."

Ford said the men's 4x1 with Alex Reece, Blake Heriot, Walker and Bromell has a chance to do something special "if we can just clean up the handoffs." Walker said it's a better group than the one that finished fifth at the NCAA meet in 2012 with him leading off and Whitney Prevost, Woodrow Randall and Heriot as the other legs.

"I think it's just them focusing more on giving the stick off and leaving on time. If they do that, I think we'll be fine," he said.

Thursday's action begins with field events at noon and the first round of running at 4:30 p.m. Baylor's contingent competing on Thursday include freshman TJ Holmes in the 400-meter hurdles, Mariah Kelly in the 1,500 meters, Olicia Williams in the 800 and the sprint crew of Bromell, Walker, McReynolds, Ashley Fields and Kehri Jones in the 100.

"Honestly, if we run right, I think everyone has a really good shot to qualify," Ford said. "I don't put any pressure on them. I just say, 'Hey, this is what we need to do.' I don't really talk to them about times or anything. I just say make the top three (in your heat), and you're in the nationals. And then we can correct everything from there."

Did you know?

Walker was the Texas state 4A runner-up in the 200 meters as a senior and helped his team to a state title in the 4x200-meter relay at Eastern Hills High School in Fort Worth, Texas. And then at Barton County (Kan.) Community College, he won the indoor 200-meter NJCAA title in 2010 and 2011, the 60-meter indoor title in 2011 and the 100-meter title outdoors.

"If you had seen me back in junior college or high school, you would think I was a little kid," he said. "I probably only weighed like 120 pounds. People don't remember that. I was all stick and bones - no muscle, nothing. And I still ran 10.04 and 20.41. Normally, you see sprinters that are all big and buff. I'm a different kind of sprinter. That's why I like the name Tiny, because it stands out."

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