A blustery, unseasonably cold Saturday morning at the Colts Neck Relays likely wasn't going to produce many fast times, but that doesn't mean standout performances weren't in the cards at Colts Neck High School. Take the case of Manalapan junior sprinter Saeed Blacknall.
As the opening heat of the 4x100 unfolded, the Braves could have asked for a better first two legs. However, Tyler Leonetti did a nice job of making up some of the deficit on the third leg around the final turn and got the baton to Blacknall with a manageable amount of work still to do for the win. He took a clean handoff from Leonetti, quickly gained speed in the first 25 meters and rolled to an unofficial 10.9 split as Manalapan came from behind for the win in 45.32.
It was an impressive flash of brilliance from Blacknall, but it's important to remember two things. He is very much still in his infancy in learning all of the techniques and mechanics to become a great sprinter and track and field is not even his main sport.
"His ceiling is so high, and this is just the beginning," said Braves assistant coach Cody High, who is also an assistant coach for the football team where Blacknall has grown into a high-major Division I recruit at wide receiver. "By the end of this year, I really believe his times will (be) impressive and he has another year to go still. He's just tapping into the well to say the least."
Nearly every major college football program out there has offered Blacknall a scholarship. An imposing, physical presence in pads, he caught 40 passes for 740 yards and 11 of 16 total touchdowns as a junior last fall when Manalapan finished 11-1 and advanced to a second consecutive sectional final.
He came out for the indoor track team following a promising outdoor campaign as a sophomore that saw him run personal bests of 11.06 for 100 meters and 22.72 for 200 meters. This past winter continued the sprinting education in the 55 meters as he clocked a personal best 6.62 at one point and dipped under 6.70 four times.
As someone who is generally considered tall for the sprints, the start has been a key point of emphasis in trying to improve. At his height crouched into the starting blocks, it takes him longer to get out and explode, something that 6-foot-5 multiple-time Olympic and World Champion sprinter Usain Bolt is still looking to improve to this day.
"I've just been working and working and busting my butt to improve the start, and that's been a big transition," Blacknall said. "The race is obviously really fast and after a while, I feel like I've gotten the hang of it. I've adjusted a few things and it really hasn't been a problem. I did what I had to do."
By all accounts, the increasing level of hype surrounding his football career has not deterred him in his efforts to improve as a sprinter. All the attention from schools like LSU, Notre Dame and Clemson among dozens of others is on his mind, but when it's time to work, he knows it's time to work. That mindset, combined with his obvious physical gifts, is what has set him apart from his peers to this point as an athlete.
"He's very quiet, but you can tell his intentions are to the best that he can," Braves track and field head coach Jim Tweed said. "You try and tone it down a little bit, but you're not gonna stop a kid like that because he's so driven."