Lonnie Custer will return to North Lincoln Wednesday in hopes of leading the East Lincoln Mustangs to a Southern Piedmont championship.
Looking at the Mustangs, while itâ€™s not a forgone conclusion, itâ€™s a pretty safe bet, as arguably no team in the conference has such a well-rounded group.
Jumpers, distance runners and sprintersâ€¦East Lincoln has it all.
While the Mustangs have many stars, nobody possesses breath-taking athleticism like senior Thomas Huntley.
Huntley, who has already turned in stellar football and basketball seasons, has carried that over into track and is garnering interest from N.C. State and Clemson.
Already, the 6-foot-1 athlete has a state best high-jump of 6â€™8â€ to his credit, has long-jumped 22â€™7â€ and triple-jumped 44â€™5.â€ In one of his most recent meets, Huntley broke the record at the Shelby Invitational, which had stood for 15-years with the aforementioned 22â€™7â€ long jump.
â€œThome is a once in 15 or 20 year athlete. I think heâ€™s only scratched the surface of his potential in track. Heâ€™s a great athlete, whoâ€™s also taken care of his obligations in the classroom and has fully qualified for college,â€ Custer said.
If Huntley is the squadâ€™s ying, then senior Brad Popple is the yang.
Poppleâ€™s specialty is distance and specialty is the right word because like Huntley, he has a legitimate chance of being Southern Piedmont champion in each event he runs.
Having already been offered scholarships by Catawba and Lenoir-Rhyne, Popple has a best time of 4:47 in the mile, a 9:53 two-mile (top-20 in the state) and anchors the 4 x 800 relay team. Whatâ€™s just impressive as his performances is his leadership, according to Custer.
â€œBradâ€™s a great leader, hard worker. Heâ€™s an internally-driven kid, who has a chance to compete for a state championship in the two-mile,â€ he said.
The man who does it all for the Mustangs is Rick Handy. Handy also runs a sub-five minute mile with a time of 4:58. But his specialty is the 800 meters where heâ€™s clocked a 2:10. Toss in a 53 second 400 meters, just for good measure.
â€œRick is a jack-of-all-trades. He can go from a 400 to a two-mile and not miss a beat,â€ Custer said.
In a bit of a surprise to the casual onlooker, junior Matt Warren, who is known more for his football prowess, has made quite a splash in his first year running track. But anybody who knows Warren, knows how determined of a young man he is and how much hard work he puts in.
Warren has been stellar in the shotput (40â€™8â€), has triple-jumped a 37â€™0â€ and thrown the discus 125.â€™
â€œThis is his first year of running high school track. Heâ€™s just an all-around good athlete. Matt wanted to use track as a vehicle to improve on the football field and heâ€™s turned into a legitimate contender for a couple of conference titles,â€ Custer said.
Other track members who earn points for East Lincoln are Josh McCray and Brent Brown in sprinting events and freshmen Brandon Decaro and Cody Earnhardt, who triple-jump, do the 300-meter hurdles and relay events.
â€œWeâ€™ve had a good season. The kids have worked hard in practice and during the meets. Weâ€™re a relatively young team with only six seniors,â€ Custer said. â€œBut the young guys have done a good job of stepping up and getting points in meets,â€ he quickly added, believing Decaro and Earnhardt, among others, continue to progress nicely as the season goes on.
Already with a Lincoln County championship in tow, the Mustangs will look to add to their list of accomplishments with a win Wednesday, something theyâ€™ve been training for all season.
â€œAll season long our motto has been we train for May. May is fast approaching and itâ€™s time for us to accomplish our goals and our first one is to be the Southern Piedmont champions,â€ Custer said. â€œI think if we have a good day, we can obtain that goal,â€ he added.
by John Mark Brooks