Will Henry will line up Wednesday afternoon for his 100-meter preliminary sprint in Eugene, Ore. He will wait for the gun.
The Utah State senior isn’t favored to win the event, not by a sight. The fastest men in the Outdoor Track and Field Championships are only tenths of a second faster, but it makes all the difference in the shortest — and arguably most high-profile — event in track.
Utah State representing at track nationals
The Aggies have two athletes who will take part in the Outdoor Track and Field Championships this week:
» Will Henry, Sr., 100 meters (preliminary June 5, 6:45 p.m. MDT)
» Chari Hawkins, heptathalon (June 6 and 7) and high jump (June 8, 1:45 p.m. MDT)
But he’ll be among them, among some of the country’s fastest men. And though he’s a sprinter, he’s run a long way from home in Stockton, Calif.
"As the years have gone on, I’ve gotten older and wiser," Henry said. "I always knew I could run faster. It’s just been about being mentally focused. In the 100, everything has to be in place."
Accordingly, Henry’s ambitions have solidified during his sometimes bumpy track career. Along with heptathlete Chari Hawkins, he’ll be representing the Aggies this week at nationals — a big deal for any track athlete.
Henry’s career has been unconventional. He took a stint at Sacramento City College after missing out on the SATs in high school. The program helped give him a foundation, then passed him along to Utah State, where he’s blossomed as a top sprinter.
"He’s the epitome of what you want in a student athlete," coach Greg Gensel said. "He’s a great kid and works hard. I took us a little while to see how talented he could be."
It took Henry awhile, too. He’s the youngest of three brothers, one of whom, Chris Henry, was an NFL running back with the Titans, Texans and Seahawks. Great things were expected of Will Henry as well, but it took longer for him to realize them.
When he was a freshman at Edison High, a coach told him he was lazy. If he worked hard, he could achieve greatness.
"I think that’s the greatest thing track has given me: just knowing how to be a hard worker," he said. "It took a little while for me to listen. But when I did, that’s when I started improvement."
At Utah State, Henry’s work ethic helped carry him to a 10.41 time in the WAC track meet, the third best time in program history. It was just fast enough to qualify for nationals, where even some of the fastest Aggies in history have never been.
He credited his coaches with helping him with his starts and some of his timing in his races. Gensel said he’s seen improvement, but much of Henry’s success can be owed to his natural ability.
"When you have someone as talented as he is, he doesn’t need a lot of help," Gensel said. "His starts and transitions have been the main thing. But success breeds more success. He’s got more confidence in what he’s doing this year, and he’s been doing really well."
After track is over, Henry sees himself working on a master’s degree closer to home, perhaps getting involved in law or corrections. But track won’t stop being a part of his life, and he hopes to give back to the sport that helped him grow up.
His last meet is another reminder of how far he’s come.
"It’s a bittersweet feeling," he said. "All my life I wanted to make my family proud. They knew I was going to be something. They knew I had a bright future."
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