Natchez hurdler Gray looks to win at state meet Saturday

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 9, 2005

NATCHEZ &045; The first time Rodney Gray jumped over a hurdle it was just for fun.

&uot;One day I was at practice playing around and I jumped over a hurdle,&uot; the Natchez junior said. &uot;Coach (Larry) Wesley saw me and ran over and said ‘There’s my hurdle man.’&uot;

For Gray, the moral of the story was simple: &uot;Don’t mess around when coach Wesley is there,&uot; Gray said. &uot;He’ll see you do something and if he sees even a little potential, he’ll make you do it.&uot;

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Before that, Gray had been a high jumper but hadn’t run any track events for the team, but the change has been a good one.

Gray hasn’t lost in either the 300- or 110-meter hurdles since early in the season, and he’s rapidly become a force for the Bulldogs.

&uot;Good coaches can see where an athlete’s best spot is. All kids come out and want to run certain things, but you have to see where they would be best,&uot; Wesley said. &uot;That’s one of my strong points as a coach.&uot;

Gray would probably agree. He never had any desire to run hurdles, but since he started there’s been nothing but success.

Gray and teammates Travis Washington and Travis Graves will compete at the MHSAA State Track Meet in Pearl Saturday as the only representatives for the Natchez boys track team.

That’s a change from the last several years, when the Bulldogs took a host of athletes

Competing for a state championship might be out of reach for the team, but Wesley said he believes that even with only three members his team is capable of finishing in the top five for the fifth consecutive year.

&uot;If they finish fourth, I’ll be proud,&uot; Wesley said. &uot;Even with only three boys, we have seven events. Rodney should win the 300 and 110 hurdles, Washington should win and get a top two or three and Graves can place in his race, so I think we can still get 40 or 45 points. That will probably be good enough for fourth.&uot;

Gray: &uot;We can place. Winning state is out of reach, probably. Once our relays were gone, that ended that,&uot; Gray said. &uot;That was kind of heartbreaking to see.&uot;

The team’s success at state will depend largely on the performance of Gray.

At South State Monday, Gray ran a 14.39 in 110 hurdles and a 38.9 in 300, marks that place him at the top of the pack in the state. He won both events at South State.

Gray finished fourth in the high jump with a leap of six feet, four inches, but not because he couldn’t do any better &045; Wesley advised him not to waste his energy after he qualified for state with the fourth-best mark.

Gray’s best is 6-6, which should put him in contention for a top spot in the high jump as well, though he’s devoted less time to training for that event this season in favor of the hurdles.

Gray’s the latest in a line of strong runners for Natchez.

&uot;Rodney got a lot from Kedrieck Gibbons. Gibbons was the No. 1 or 2 hurdler in the country and Rodney saw him and what he did,&uot; Wesley said. &uot;I remember Rodney had been bugging me to let him run hurdles and at the McComb meet they had an open slot and he wanted in. Now he’s the man, but he learned a lot from Gibbons.&uot;

Gibbons, a state champion for the Bulldogs, is in his freshman season at South Carolina.

The junior plays just about every sport at Natchez High, though his longing look at the football team’s spring practice Thursday afternoon gave away his favorite.

&uot;I want to be out there. Football’s my love,&uot; Gray said. &uot;They want my to play Thursday in the spring game, but I don’t know if I can do that. That’s a lot of wear and tear on my body, coming straight from track to that.&uot;

Saturday Gray will have just one thought on his mind &045; being the best hurdler in the MHSAA.