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Athletes to watch at the 2016 Texas state track meet

Two future Longhorn receivers are among the state meet participants

2016 wide receiver signee Davion Curtis (Temple) will anchor one of the state's fastest 4x200 relay teams this weekend.
2016 wide receiver signee Davion Curtis (Temple) will anchor one of the state's fastest 4x200 relay teams this weekend.
Jessica Morrey

The 2016 U.I.L. Track & Field State Meet will begin at 5:00 p.m. today and run through Saturday night at Mike A. Myers Stadium on the UT campus in Austin. This event annually features future Longhorn athletes and this year's edition is no exception, though there will not be as many as there have been in most recent years. The 2015 state meet featured (at the time) two Texas Longhorn football signees, one 2016 football commit, one 2015 basketball signee, and no fewer than nine 2015 UT track & field/cross country signees. The number of Longhorn football signees/commits is essentially the same, but there are significantly fewer Texas track signees scheduled to compete.

In the following paragraphs I'll list all of the future Longhorn athletes who will be competing in Austin this weekend, and profile some other participants and events that might be of interest to fans of track & field and/or followers of the football recruiting scene. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive preview, so please no angry emails about how I didn't mention your beloved nephew or your school's hurdles record holder, etc.

Before I get into that,  some explanation of track terms is necessary, as well as my annual reminder of just what it takes for a track athlete to advance this far. In early April, every U.I.L. district held their track & field meets, and the top four individual finishers in each event - along with the top four relay teams - advanced to their area meet, at which those four entrants competed against the top four finishers in each event from their numerically "neighboring" district (example: an area meet featuring the best of districts 1 and 2 in Class 6A, or from districts 11 and 12 of Class 4A). The top four finishers in each event at the area meets advanced to the regional level, with each classification - from 6A to 1A - having four regions. At each regional meet, the top two finishers automatically qualified for the state meet, and they were joined in the field of state finalists by the top third place performance among the four regional meets in their classification, usually called the "wild card" qualifier.

The full lists of state meet qualifiers for each classification can be found here. All information regarding schedules of events, maps and directions, and how to access the state meet's (online-only) broadcast can be found at the event's official website here. The "seed time" or "seed mark" listed for each state meet participant reflects their regional meet performance and is not necessarily their best time or mark from the current season.

2016 Texas football signees

Reggie Hemphill-Mapps (Manvel)

6A boys 4x100 meter relay (alternate) and 4x200 meter relay (2nd leg)

Manvel's 4x200 relay team has the fastest seed time among the 6A state finalists (1:24.49), as well as the 2nd fastest time in the nation for this season, according to Four of the teams they'll be running against have run times that put them in the top-11 nationally, so this should be a very fast heat, and if track conditions are good one of the teams might make a legitimate run at the 6A state meet record (1:23.92, set by Fort Bend Hightower in 2007).

Hemphill-Mapps, a three-star wide receiver signee,  is listed as an alternate runner for Manvel's 4x100 relay, which has the second-fastest seed time (40.55) and the fourth-fastest time in the nation this year. Only 20 schools in the country have run times under 41.00 this season, and five of them will run in the 6A boys final. I don't know what the chances are that Manvel will substitute Hamphill-Mapps for one of the runners on a relay that's already one of the very fastest in the U.S. (he was also listed as an alternate on the 4x100 relay at last year's state meet, but ultimately didn't run on Manvel's team, which finished 3rd), but if there's any reason for doing so it would be his experience as a state meet veteran. At the 2015 state meet he ran the opening leg of Manvel's 2nd place 4x200 relay team (1:24.50) and the second leg of its 2nd place 4x400 relay team (which ran a 3:12.48 and finished just 0.04 behind winner Humble Kingwood). And as a sophomore at the 2014 state meet, he ran legs of those same two relays, helping Manvel to a 5th place finish in both.

Davion Curtis (Temple)

5A boys 4x200 meter relay (anchor leg) and 4x400 meter relay (alternate)

The 2016 wide receiver signee will make his third and final appearance at the state meet, having run the anchor leg of Temple's 4x200 relay team at both the 2014 and 2015 state meets (they were disqualified for stepping out of their lane in 2014, and finished 3rd in 2015). Temple's seed time (1:24.98) is the tenth-fastest in the nation this season, but the favorite in the 5A final will be defending champion Fort Bend Marshall, which boasts the nation's top time in 2016 (1:24.07), and whose first leg and anchor leg will be run by the same runners who carried the baton on those legs for Marshall's 2015 state-winning relay (which ran a  Class 5A-record time of 1:24.01).

Curtis is also listed as an alternate on Temple's 4x400 relay team, which has a top-20 national time (3:15.15) and the fourth-best seed time in the 5A boys final. Curtis did not run in that relay at the 5A Region III meet. Temple just missed out on qualifying for the state meet in the 4x100 relay; Temple's team (with Curtis as the anchor leg) finished 3rd at the 5A Region III meet in 41.08, a time that would have easily won 1st place at the Region I or Region IV meets, but wasn't quite fast enough to grab the wild card slot at the state meet, which was earned by Waxahachie's 3rd place time of 41.02 at the 5A Region II meet.

2016 Texas Track Signees

Medric Roberson (Mansfield Summit)

5A boys 110 meter hurdles

Roberson will go into the state meet with the top seed time (14.09) among the 5A boys 110 meter hurdles finalists, and the 13.84 that he ran in his preliminary heat at the 5A Region II meet is the third-fastest time in the state this season. Roberson will look to end his high school track career by improving on his 2nd place finish in the 110 hurdles at the 2015 state meet, in which he ran a very good 13.80 that would have been fast enough to win in almost any other year, but wasn't nearly fast enough to catch Fort Bend Marshall senior (and current Alabama defensive back) Kendall Sheffield, whose winning time of 13.42 was the fourth-fastest time in state history, according to the Texas Track & Field Coaches Association's list of all-time top performances. Roberson also ran the 300 meter hurdles at the 2015 state meet, finishing 6th (38.28).

Alexis Duncan (DeSoto)

6A girls 100 meter hurdles, 300 meter hurdles, and 4x100 meter relay (anchor leg)

Duncan has been one of the nation's top high school girls hurdlers since her sophomore year, and she goes into her last state meet as the owner of four state gold medals and will be favored to go home at the end of this weekend with three more.

Duncan is the two-time defending 6A (formerly 5A) state champion in the girls 100 meter hurdles, and in 2015 she also took home gold in the 300 meter hurdles and as the anchor leg of DeSoto's winning 4x100 meter relay team. She has by far the top 6A seed times in both the 100 hurdles (13.44) and 300 hurdles (41.20), and DeSoto's 4x100 relay team (on which she again runs the anchor leg) has not only the field's top seed time (45.29) but also the top time in the nation this season (45.10, a time that has been topped by only two relay teams in state history). The USA's second- and third-ranked 4x100 relay teams (Houston Cypress Springs and Cedar Hill) will also be in the 6A girls final, so winning gold in that event again won't be a cakewalk for DeSoto.

Abby Guidry (Humble Kingwood)

6A girls 1,600 meter run and 3,200 meter run

Guidry returns to the state meet after having run the 1,600 meters and 3,200 meters at last year's state meet. She finished 8th and 7th in the two events in 2015, and her seed times put her very much in the middle of the pack for both events going into this year's meet. She'll be in familiar company when she runs. Including Guidry, all five underclassmen who ran in last year's 6A girls 3,200 meter run return to this year's state final, as do all six underclassmen who ran in last year's 6A girls 1,600 meter run. Those returning state finalists include Houston Lamar junior Julia Heymach, who broke the girls' state record in the 1,600 meters a year ago (4:40.97) and came within a second of the U.I.L. state meet record in the 3,200 meters (her winning time was 10:14.62). Guidry's top times this season in the 1,600 (4:58.03) and 3,200 (10:43.30) are both top-ten times in the state but are well behind those of the favorites in those events, and nowhere near her best times at this point last year.

Teesa Mpagi (The Woodlands)

6A girls long jump, triple jump, and 4x200 meter relay (1st leg)

[Note: Some track sites and meet results have Mpagi's first name spelled "Tessa", but it was "Teesa" on the UT track release announcing its new signing class, and Mpagi spells it Teesa on her own Twitter account.]

This will be the second state meet appearance for the jumping specialist. Mpagi finished 3rd in the 5A girls long jump as a sophomore in 2014, leaping 19 feet. In 2015 she had excellent jumps at the 15/16-6A area meet, winning in both the long jump and triple jump, but at the 6A Region II meet she officially got a DNS (did not start) in the long jump and a ND (no distance) in the triple jump, which suggests she may have been injured and had to withdraw.

The 19'4" that she jumped at last month's 6A Region II meet is a career best and is the fourth-best seed mark in the 6A girls field. In the triple jump, her wind-aided 39'7.75" jump at regionals is merely the seventh-best seed mark out of the nine 6A finalists, but her top jump this season - a 40'5.75" leap at her area meet - is just over eight inches shy of the top seed mark (41'2"), which is owned by defending state champion Brianna Johnson (Klein Oak), who has signed with Texas Tech.

Mpagi will also run the first leg of The Woodlands' 4x200 relay team, whose seed time (1:37.61) is only seventh-best in the 6A girls field, though it's just 0.71 seconds behind the second-best seed time, so with a strong run they could at least finish with a medal. The Woodlands actually winning the race is far less likely. See: next item.

Some other football players of interest

Future D1 football players flying far and high

- Baylor defensive end signee Brandon Bowen (Trophy Club Byron Nelson) won the 6A boys high jump at last year's state meet with a leap of 6'7", and this year he has cleared the bar at 6'10". He also long jumped 23 feet at his school's district meet, and though he didn't qualify for regionals in that event, 23 feet is still a very impressive distance for a 6'4" 230-pound human being. Bowen is every bit the physical freak Myles Garrett was in high school, and he'll be a terror to Big 12 offensive lines over the next 4 years if he comes anywhere close to his ceiling. He'll seek to defend his high jump crown Saturday morning.

- Iowa State running back signee Kene Nwangwu (Frisco Heritage) won both the high jump and long jump at the 5A Region II meet. In the high jump he tied the best mark by any high jumper in the state this year (6'11"), and he goes into the state meet with the best seed mark out of the 5A boys long jumpers (24'2.75"). The speedy future Cyclone, whose older brother runs hurdles for UT-Arlington's track team, also ran a slightly wind-aided 100 meter time of 10.54 at a March meet, though he did not advance past the area meet in that event. This will be his third state meet appearance, having finished 2nd in the high jump in each of the past two years. He was one of my favorite recruits in the 2016 class, and though the 247 Composite rankings put him as the #125 recruit in the state, he wasn't offered by any in-state school and committed to Iowa State over reported offers from Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nevada, and Northwestern. I've been predicting for a few months that he'll be a player who 4-5 years from now we'll look back and wonder how he wasn't more highly recruited.

- Speaking of athletes whose stats and outstanding senior film make them look shockingly under-recruited in hindsight, Stephen F. Austin signee Josh McGowen (McAllen) will be competing in four events: the 6A boys 110 meter hurdles, 300 meter hurdles, long jump, and triple jump. Once the weekend is over, I bet more than a few fans of P5 football programs will hear of McGowen being signed by an FCS program and ask, "Is it too late for our team to flip him?"

McGowen comes from a military family and began his high school career at an American school in England, before later moving to North Carolina for his sophomore and junior years, then to McAllen (his father's hometown) in the summer before his senior year. As a junior at Overhills High School in Spring Lake, North Carolina, he competed in that state's 4A state track meet, finishing 3rd in the long jump and 4th in the 300 meter hurdles. This past fall at McAllen, he played running back and defensive back, rushing for just under 1,900 yards and 23 touchdowns.

He has the top seed time in the 6A boys 110 hurdles field (13.88), despite having run into a strong headwind during that race at the 6A Region IV meet. His seed time in the 300 hurdles (36.67) is also the best of the 6A finalists. He won't be favored in either jumping event, but he has long jumped as far as 23'7.5" and triple jumped 48'4.5" this season. Notably, he also ran a 10.66 100 meter time at his district meet, though he went on to only finish 3rd in that race at regionals and did not advance to the state meet final. I expect he'll be romping his way through an FCS defense near you over the next few years.

- The 4A boys long jump final will include one of the state's fastest-rising 2018 recruits in wide receiver/safety Joshua Moore (Yoakum). He and twin brother Jordan Moore have been raking up offers at a lightning pace over the past month, with offers coming in from the likes of Baylor, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech, among others. Texas could very well join the race for the talented brothers at some point. Moore's best long jump at regionals, a leap of 24'5", is tied for the third-best in the state this year, but the top two jumpers will also be competing in the 4A final, those two being Stephen F. Austin football/track signee Denzel Green (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau) and Kamron Mathis (Cuero).

Kennedy Brooks and Saiid Adebo (Mansfield)

6A boys 4x100 meter relay and 4x200 meter relay

The talented junior teammates, both of whom are composite four-star prospects and ranked among the state's top 40 recruits in the 2017 class, will run legs on both of the 6A sprint relay events. Brooks, a running back who has reported offers from Michigan, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas Tech, and Washington, among others, will run the first leg on both relays. Adebo, who could play either wide receiver or cornerback at the next level and holds offers from at least 19 programs (most of them in the Big 12, SEC, or PAC 12), will run the third leg on both relays. Mansfield's seed time in the 4x200 relay (1:24.85) is the second-best in the 6A field and sixth-best nationally in 2016. (Texas really dominates the 4x200 relay, as 16 of the top 17 times run in 2016 are by Texas high schools.) In the 4x100 they have run a top time of 40.78 and are one of five teams in the 6A final to have run under 41 seconds this year.

Manny Neatherly (Crosby)

5A boys 400 meter dash

The junior wide receiver, a former Texas A&M commit and holder of a UT offer, has the third best seed time in the 5A boys 400 meter final (47.75). He has already taken advantage of his trip to Austin by paying a visit to the Texas staff.

Cameron Jones (Euless Trinity)

6A boys 400 meter dash

The 2018 safety, who should be a big name by the end of this year, has the third-best seed time in the 6A boys 400 meter final (47.16).

Trestan Ebner (Henderson)

4A boys 100 meters and 200 meters

The talented 2017 wide receiver from east Texas ran a laser-timed 4.40 forty at The Opening Dallas two months ago and is up to a dozen reported offers. He has the fifth-best seed time in both of his events, having run a season-best 21.93 to win the 200 meters at the 4A Region III meet, and a 10.77 to take 2nd place in the 100 meters.

Kary Vincent, Jr. (Port Arthur Memorial)

6A boys 200 meters and 4x100 meter relay (2nd leg)

The composite four-star defensive back has over two dozen reported offers, including ones from Texas and four other Big 12 teams. He ran a scorching 21.14 to win the 200 meters at the 6A Region III meet, and he will run the 2nd leg on a 4x100 relay squad that ran a 40.87 at regionals and also includes Baylor running back signee Kameron Martin. A year ago, Vincent ran the 3rd leg on Memorial's 4x100 relay team that finished 2nd at state with a time of 40.59.

Jordan Whittington (Cuero)

4A boys 4x100 meter relay (3rd leg) and 4x200 meter relay (alternate)

Whittington, a freshman wide receiver, reported receiving a Baylor offer earlier this week. Probably won't be his last offer. He'll be running on a 4x100 relay team whose seed time (42.56) is pretty much in the middle of the pack in the 4A field.

Other track athletes and events to watch

Cuero's boys track team

The state meet will mark the end of a 39-year career for Cuero's longtime head boys track coach, Victor Mathis. During his years coaching at the school, the boys track team has won four state championships (one while he was an assistant). As an assistant football coach since 1977, he's been on the coaching staff of teams that won one state title and played for five others. Due to knee replacement surgery and a subsequent illness, Coach Mathis wasn't able to attend any of his team's meets this season until regionals. With Cuero having two relay teams and three jumpers participating at the state meet, its team has a good chance of finishing at or near the top of the 4A boys team standings. One of those jumpers is Mathis's son Kamron, who has the state's second-best long jump mark this season (24'6.25") and will also compete in the triple jump and run on Cuero's 4x100 relay (1st leg) and 4x200 relay (2nd leg).

6A girls distance running events

The 6A girls 3,200 and 1,600 meter run finals will feature several experienced runners who will be competing in their second, third, or even fourth state meet, and though none of them have come anywhere close to the existing state records this season, some have set records in the past, and you never know when a runner will save their best run for last and post a state meet time significantly better than any they've run all year.

- Junior Julia Heymach (Houston Lamar), the defending 6A champion in both events, will be running in her third state meet. A year ago she set the state record in the 1,600 meters (4:40.97) and ran the fourth-fastest 3,200 meters (10:14.62) in state history.

- Senior Madie Boreman (Leander Rouse) ended her freshman year with a state gold medal, and will aim to finish her high school career in the same way. The Colorado signee won the 4A girls 1,600 meter run at the 2013 state meet with a 4A-record time of 4:48.16, and also finished 2nd in the 3,200 with a time of 10:39.29. In the years since, her school has moved up to Class 6A (formerly 5A), and Boreman has replicated neither her freshman year results nor times at two subsequent state meet appearances. As a sophomore in 2014, she finished 4th in the 3,200 and 8th in the 1,600, clocking significantly slower times than she had as a ninth grader. Competing in the same events at the 2015 state meet, she improved to 3rd place in the 3,200 and 4th in the 1,600, but couldn't keep up with the historically great times run by the aforementioned Julia Heymach and Devin White (now a freshman at Arkansas), who finished 2nd in both races. At the Texas Relays last month she ran the fastest 1,600 meter time by a Texas high school girl this season (4:50.36). She'll probably have to run faster than that to stay ahead of the state record-holder Heymach and the other top competitors.

- Senior Maddy Reed (Flower Mound Marcus) has the state's third-fastest 1,600 time this season (4:53.89), three seconds behind both Boreman and Heymach. In two previous trips to the state meet she finished 5th (2015) and 8th (2014) in the 1,600 meter run. The Arkansas signee will run in the 1,600 meter final for a third straight year, and coming home with her first state meet medal could help make up for the disappointment of failing to qualify for state in the 3,200 meters in consecutive years after running elite times earlier in the season. Reed actually owns the state's fastest 3,200 meter time this season, a 10:28.16 performance she clocked at her district meet, but at regionals two weeks later she ran a time 21 seconds slower and finished fifth. And a year ago she ran a 3,200-meter time of 10:19.36 at the Texas Relays (a time bested by only nine runners in the nation in 2015), but five weeks later she stumbled to a 7th place finish at regionals, running a very pedestrian (for her) 11:07.43.

-Junior Ashton Endlsey (Abilene) is another rising star in the state's distance running scene, and she'll be competing at her third state meet. She finished 5th in the 3,200 meters as a freshman in 2014, then a year later she took 3rd in the 1,600 and again finished 5th in the 3,200 (despite improving on her 2014 time by a full fifteen seconds). She has not lost a race in 2016, and will go into the state meet with the top seed time in the 6A girls 3,200 meters (10:34.77) and the second-best seed time in the 1,600 meters (4:54.16).

6A girls relay events

The state record in at least one relay event will be in danger of falling on Saturday, and the top qualifiers in the other two relay races have already run times that place them among the best in the state's history.

- In the 4x100 relay, Dallas Skyline's 2004 state record time of 44.60 may not be in jeopardy, but the all-junior DeSoto foursome that comfortably won state a year ago with a time of 45.38 is back and running even faster as seniors. The 45.10 they ran at regionals was the third-best time in state history, and the fastest time run by any relay team in the country over the past three seasons. Between their proven speed and state meet experience, DeSoto's 4x100 relay team seems poised to at least threaten a record that was set when its runners were in kindergarten.

- DeSoto's 4x200 relay team likewise has the nation's best time this year (1:34.98) and has run faster than any group the state has seen in over a decade. At the 6A Region II meet they got to within spitting distance of the state record of 1:34.51, set by Alief Elsik in 2003.

- The state girls record in the 4x400 relay is 3:38.35, set in 2003 by Dallas Skyline. Only two relay teams in the thirteen years since then have come within two seconds of that time, both of them from Fort Bend Marshall (in 2005 and 2006). This year's 6A state final heat features Fort Bend Hightower and Houston Cypress Springs, which became the third and fourth relay teams in the state's history to break the 3:40 mark when they finished 1-2 at the 6A Region III meet, running times of 3:38.85 and 3:39.94. They're no doubt well aware of how close they have come to the state record and their competition should make for a very exciting finish on Saturday night. The winning 6A girls 4x400 relay team at last year's state meet, Converse Judson, ran only a time of 3:45.56. Hightower and Cypress Springs may be running away from the field by the time their anchors get the baton, but they figure to at least be pushed by McKinney Boyd and their anchor, Baylor signee Aaliyah Miller, the defending 6A champion in the 400 meter dash (more on her in the next paragraph).

Aaliyah Miller (McKinney Boyd)

6A girls 400 meter dash, 800 meter run, and 4x400 meter relay

The Baylor signee has been arguably the state's best middle distance runner over the past three track seasons. As a sophomore in 2014, she won both the 5A girls 800 meters and 1,600 meters, setting a U.I.L. state record time in the former event (2:07.07). She followed that up by winning two more gold medals at the 2015 state meet, repeating as the 800 meter champion and adding a state title in the 400 meters to her resume. This year, she's back to defend her titles in the 800 and 400 while also anchoring McKinney Boyd's 4x400 meter relay team, which has the third-best seed time (3:42.58).

Adrian Piperi (The Woodlands)

6A boys shot put and discus

Arguably the state's top thrower, Piperi topped 60 feet in the shot put as a freshman and finished 3rd at the 2014 state meet. He won both the shot put and discus at last year's state meet, heaving the shot 65'5.25" and throwing the discus 188'2". Now a junior, he has improved on both marks in 2016, breaking the 70-feet barrier in the shot put at multiple meets and winning the discus at the Texas Relays with a career-best throw of 204'3".

Jake Merrell (Turkey Valley)

1A boys high jump, 800 meters, 1,600 meters, and 4x400 meter relay (anchor)

Top track athletes can - and have - come from pretty much anywhere, but as you get into the lower classifications while looking through lists of state meet qualifiers and results, the performances, by and large, become a lot less impressive. Glance at this year's Class 1A state finalists and you'll mostly see seed times and marks that wouldn't have placed in a lot of area or district meets at the highest classifications. But one athlete at the 1A level stands out as a truly elite performer, one who has run times that stick out at any level. Sophomore Jake Merrell attends tiny Valley High School in Turkey, a six-man football school in a panhandle town of about 400 people that's a 100 mile drive southeast of Amarillo and roughly the same distance northeast of Lubbock.

Merrell won the 1A boys 800 meters as a freshman at the 2015 state meet, clocking a 1:57.05 time that was just over 1.6 seconds shy of the 1A class record. Fast forward a year, and Merrell has developed into one of the state's elite mid-distance runners, and maybe the top sophomore in the nation for his best event. He has run the state's second best 800 meter time this season, and his regional time (1:51.86) is a full eleven seconds better than the next-best 1A seed time. This is a sophomore we're talking about. He likely won't face much in the way of legitimate competition running against lower-classification guys in the panhandle and west Texas over his last two years, but anyone who puts up 800 meter times that fast as a 10th grader has to be considered a threat to break Abilene alum Jonathan Johnson's 2001 state record (1:48.21) before he graduates.

Merrill will be a busy young man this weekend. He'll compete in the 1A boys high jump late Friday afternoon, then in three running events early Saturday afternoon. He could very well smash the Class 1A record in the 800 meters, then he'll run the 1,600 meters some two and a half hours later. He'll be facing two-time defending champion and Class 1A record-holder Jesse Roberts (Sanderson) in the latter event, and his best run this season (4:23.10) is over five seconds better than Roberts's regional time (4:28.78). About a half hour after the 1,600 meter run, he's scheduled to anchor Valley's 4x400 meter relay team, whose seed time (3:32.86) is nearly five seconds slower than the top 1A finalist, Garden City (3:27.93).