East High junior Will Prettyman crossed the finish line with enough space between him and the rest of the pack to fit a small motorhome.
“That kid is just way too fast,” a spectator said to the woman next to her as they watched the boys’ 200 meters at Thursday’s All-City Meet.
Prettyman, the defending Class 4A state champion in the 100, 200 and long jump, entered this season as the guy to beat in his classification.
With a host of national championships under his belt, the composure that he’s developed to go with his talent has made him a formidable opponent in all three of his events.
“I really love long jump just because it’s a little bit more relaxed,” Prettyman said. “If you mess up the first time, you have the opportunity to run through it. But I also love the 100 because of the adrenaline rush that comes with it. Stepping into you blocks is pretty awesome, to feel that. … I love the curve [in the 200.] I like the waterfall start because I’m able to chase a little bit more, and I always feel like I do a lot better when I’m chasing people.”
His composure is a quality he’s built over the years. His coach Roland Tolbert had to take him away from the stadium to calm him down before his first national USA Track & Field meet in 2013.
Tolbert, standing in a field somewhere in Greensboro, N.C., said, “Look Will, we all bleed the same. All you have to do is go out and be you.”
They returned, and Prettyman passed three runners in the final 40 meters of the race to take second in the 100 for the 11-12 age group. He finished just .01 seconds behind the winner.
“It was one of the best races I think I’ve ever seen him run in his life,” Tolbert said.
Tolbert has been coaching Prettyman since he began the sport as a 9 year old.
Prettyman kept coming home from school with stories of winning races at recess against kids two or three years older than him. His parents watched him out-run pretty much everyone on the soccer field. So they signed him up for track.
It was a sport that Prettyman, who was involved in multiple team sports, hadn’t heard of before.
“All I have to do is run?” he said when his parents explained it to him.
Prettyman wasn’t a technically skilled runner when he began. Like most kids, Tolbert said, his arms crossed and he looked up as he ran.
“But yeah, I knew he was going to be pretty special,” Tolbert said. “I think because, No. 1, at that age, he was very coachable. He would just look me in the eye and listen and do what I asked him to do. So once I saw that and his talent, then yeah, I knew he was going to be pretty good.”
Tolbert eased Prettyman into the mechanics of running, a process that Will’s father, Brett Prettyman, believes contributed to the ease in which he runs now.
“People just really like to watch him because he’s not fighting,” Brett said. “They just see the naturalness of it.”
So when Brett and his wife, Brooke Barrigar, saw their son wince again and again during the high school season his freshman year, they knew something was up.
The problem was his calf, stemming from an ankle injury he sustained in the winter. The ankle had healed just fine, but his calf would seize up as soon as he started running, and he’d feel as if he was on the verge of pulling a muscle.
“It was really annoying because I didn’t feel it any other time except for when I was running,” Will said. “So it was really hard to be like, ‘I feel great, I feel great, I feel great,’ and then I’d do a 100 and be like, ‘Uh oh. I don’t feel that great.’”
He began massage therapy, but it still wasn’t back to normal in time for the state meet.
“He just didn’t look like himself,” Barrigar said, “and that was kind of hard to watch.”
Will still placed fifth in the 100, sixth in the long jump, but bowed out of the final after qualifying in the 200.
So it was that much more meaningful the next year when he came in first in the 100 by 29-hundredths of a second.
“It was just a really awesome feeling to finally cross that tape,” he said.
Then Prettyman won the long jump (22 feet, 9.25 inches) and the 200 (21.56 seconds).
Gone were the days when Tolbert had to take him out of the stadium to calm him down. He just ran easily, naturally — and some might say, way too fast.
Year • Junior
School • East High
Events • 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump
2017 Class 4A state titles • 100 (10.90 seconds), 200 (21.56), long jump (22 feet, 9.25 inches)