Micah Williams sprints to top
The fastest sprinter in Oregon high school track and field history comes in a very small package.
Micah (pronounced "Muk-eye") Williams is 5-8 1/2 and 170 pounds, but his short steps cover a lot of ground in very little time.
Williams, who will be a senior at Benson High in the fall, had a sensational 2019 season. During the indoor season, he won the boys 60-meter day in 6.64 seconds at the prestigious Simplot Games in Pocatello, Idaho, in February, then ruled the boys 60 in 6.60 at the New Balance Nationals in New York City in March.
"I didn't think he'd be able to run that fast," said Leon McKenzie, Williams' coach at Benson. "That's equivalent to under 10.2 (in the 100). But it wasn't shocking. Micah had a great indoor season. We were primed to do something really special going into the state meet."
Outdoors, Williams broke the the state 200 record by running 21.03 at the Arcadia Invitational in Los Angeles in April. Then he took down Thomas Tyner's state 100 mark of 10.35 with a spectacular 10.21 clocking at the Nike Jesuit Twilight Relays in May — the fastest time ever by a high school runner on the West Coast.
Williams was honored this summer as the Oregon Sports Awards Class 6A-5A high school male athlete of the year for 2018-19.
Alas, foot and ankle injuries before the Portland Interscholastic League district championships ended his season prematurely.
"It wasn't fun the way it ended," McKenzie said, "but it added up a tremendous year."
"It's a blessing to see that my hard work is starting to pay off, seeing everything come together," Williams said. "I'm not going to get down on myself even though I got hurt. I'm going to keep working for next year."
Williams was disappointed that he was unable to defend his 6A titles in the 100 and 200 — he set meet records in both events as a sophomore — and maybe just as much that he missed out on a chance to go head-to-head with Matthew Boling.
Boling, a graduating senior from Houston who will run collegiately at Georgia next season, was featured in a major spread in Sports Illustrated in the spring. He was a finalist for Gatorade National Athlete of the Year in any sport. Boling has run the 100 in a wind-aided 9.98 this spring and set the national record with a legal 10.13.
Williams was tentatively scheduled to race against Boling in a pair of meets this summer, including in the U-20 Championships at Mirimar, Florida. But McKenzie and sprints coach John Mays decided to shut down Williams for the season due to his injuries.
"I think he'd have been right with Boling," McKenzie said. "It would have been quite a race, but we weren't going to push it. It wasn't time to get greedy. We didn't want to take any chance on further injury. We decided to let him rest, rehab and train and get ready for a great senior year. He has a lot of running in front of him."
"It would have been fun, but I'm not complaining," Williams said. "It was disappointing at first, but looking back at it, it was a chance for me to use the summer to train and work and do things I wouldn't have been able to do if I hadn't gotten hurt."
Williams earned his driver's license, taking driver's education classes to save money on insurance. He bought his first car, a 2013 Toyota Scion FR-S, with money he had saved. He is serving an internship as an office assistant with the Bureau of Land Management two days a week and working as a camp counselor at the Free Lunch and Play program of Portland Parks & Recreation three days a week.
"I'm pretty busy every day," Williams said. "And even though I'm not running, I'm training. I go to physical therapy to get my foot right and get better. I'm not just sitting around the house."
That's by design. Williams is well-spoken and well-mannered, a disciplined student (carrying a 4.0 cumulative grade-point average) who takes marching orders from his mother, Andrea Green, and grandmother, Janette Green.
"My mom and grandma have always been there for me," Williams said. "Mom helps me with my nutrition. My grandma makes the food and plans the meals for me. They both have helped me a lot. They support me with everything I do, and they're both good role models to keep me focused."
Williams said it "means a lot" to be the fastest sprinter ever in the state.
"It keeps me humble and motivated," he said, "but I never really brag about anything. Like, I don't go on social media and tell which colleges are recruiting me. That's not who I am."
McKenzie, a former Oregon State football tailback, has been coaching track and field for 44 years at the prep level in Oregon, the last 33 at Benson. He has seen all of the great sprinters in the state since the 1970s. He's never seen one like Williams.
"We've had a lot of talented kids before," McKenzie said, "but they've never reached the highest goals like Micah has."
In the summer between his sophomore and junior years at Benson, running primarily against college-age youths, Williams anchored the United States' 4-by-100 relay unit to gold at the World U-20 Championships in Finland.
"That was my first time in a big meet like that," he said. "I was running against the top (junior) runners (in the world). It showed me that I had the potential to do big things. If I were to stay motivated and dedicated to the thing I love, I'll be able to do this as a job one day."
McKenzie said he noticed something about Williams since he came to him as a member of McKenzie's Albina Roadrunners Track Club at age 9.
"He has uncanny ability to rise to the occasion," McKenzie said. "That's nothing you coach. It's been in him since he was a little guy. The bigger the meet, the better his performance. He's quite the competitor."
Williams was a star tailback on Benson's freshman team, scoring 21 touchdowns in nine games that season. But he quit football to focus on track.
"It was kind of hard," he said. "I wanted to play last year, but my mom said no, so I said all right. It gave me more time to focus on my craft in track."
McKenzie and Mays — who have been working together for about 35 years — have provided important year-round tutelage for Williams.
"They've truly helped me a lot," he said. "I never had a father figure. They've been there to support me, and they always push me to go harder. Without them, I don't know where I'd be. Those coaches have really motivated me to keep going forward."
Williams has a major decision coming up in the next few months — his choice of a college.
"Everybody is calling," said McKenzie, who is helping run interference for the family in the recruiting process.
Williams already has had home visits with coaches representing Oregon, Southern Cal, Miami and Stanford. Texas Tech and Florida are on deck.
"We've all let Micah know that we're not going to tell him where to go," McKenzie said. "That's a decision he has to make."
The decision will be made with academics in mind. Williams wants to major in biomechanics and kinesiology, with a potential career as an athletic trainer or physical therapist once his running days are over.
"I don't give an edge to any school yet," he said. "I'm looking at every school to find one that gives me the best opportunity. I really don't know right now."
Williams has some versatility as a runner. In his only 400 of the past season, he clocked 48.02, the best of any runner in the state in 2019.
"He ran the whole way by himself," McKenzie said. "Had he been in a race, we think he could have dropped a sub-47."
But McKenzie believes Williams' specialty will be the 100.
"He can run a good 200, too," his coach said. "He's strong, he's powerful, he has explosion. He'll be a 100/4-by-100 relay type of guy at the next level. If called upon, he can run some mile-relay legs, but he's not a quarter-miler."
Williams is unlikely to get much taller, and he'll be limited some by his size. Usain Bolt, the world record-holder in the 100 and 200, was 6-5 and 205 pounds. But there are examples of the opposite extreme. Tyson Gay was 5-11 and 165. Maurice Greene was 5-9 and 180. Harvey Glance was 5-8 and 150. Houston McTear was 5-7 and 165.
"Sprinters come in all shapes and sizes," McKenzie said. "When a guy is 6-4 with turnover and elastic bounce, that's a dangerous situation. But a lot of great sprinters are not tall."
Williams is spending the summer rehabbing the foot and ankle and working on his core and flexibility.
"He won't start any kind of running until at least September," McKenzie said. "We want him to stay healthy. It's a big year coming up for him for his goals."
One of the main goals is to qualify for the Olympic trials in the 100 in Eugene next June. That would require a clocking of 10.05, unless he has a world ranking that meets a certain standard. Williams said only four 18-year-olds in history have qualified for the U.S. trials in the event.
"If I'm healthy, I know I'll have a chance to run in it," he said. "I could be the first ever from Oregon to run in the Olympics as an 18-year-old. That's one of the reasons I keep working hard, because I want to make the Olympic trials, and hopefully make it to the second round."
If Williams doesn't make it, he could still qualify for the U.S. team at the Junior World Championships.
"That's a realistic goal," McKenzie said. "We want to see if he can end next year in style and be super fit."
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