I have a story in today's Telegraph on Torrin Lawrence, Georgia's All-American sprinter who is just starting outdoor season this month.
If you don't know much about Lawrence, you can check him out in last year's Tyson Invitational relay HERE.
(Side note: I know there's some more video out there. If anyone has a link to any more of Torrin's races, post it in the comments.)
Better yet, though, you should be sure to be at the track to catch him in person on April 9 and 10 in Athens for his first home meet of the outdoor season.
Long story short, the guy is a perhaps the best athlete on the Georgia campus, and he's a thrill to watch.
Of course, as interesting a specimen as Lawrence is on the track, he was even better in our interview. I talked to him for about 20 minutes last week and could only fit a small portion of that into my story. So, rather than shortchange you the chance to hear from him, here's the full Q&A…
David Hale: So indoor track athlete of the year, All-American, setting a bunch of records… are you just living the dream right now?
Torrin Lawrence: It’s cool. I didn’t really expect all of it, but it’s cool to have it.
DH: Last year as a freshman, you certainly impressed pretty quickly, but it seems like you've really taken the next step this year. What's been the difference?
TL: My freshman year, I still had the high school mentality of, OK, I can work hard, but I don’t have to work that hard. Now, I’m more serious about track, so I’m going to try my hardest to do everything I can.
DH: I was told that your best event is probably the 200, but it was the 400 you ran away with at nationals this year. Which one do you prefer running?
TL: My best event has always been the 400, but I just don’t like running it.
DH: Why not?
TL: It’s the pain that comes with it.
DH: That's interesting. I guess I don't expect to hear that from athletes as accomplished as you are. Is that what you're thinking about when you're running? Or what goes through your head?
TL: It’s real simple. You may think it’s a real mechanical type of thing, but I’m scared as hell the whole time. From when they announce I have to go out there to when I get in the blocks, I’m scared. And the whole first 200 is me running scared. The second 200 is me trying to hold that speed up, and then I’m finished.
DH: Wow, so you're actually scared every time you race? I wouldn't think someone as accomplished as you would still think of it that way.
TL: It is hard to get past it. I’m worried every time I run the 400. The 200, not as much. I know I can run the 200 and I know it’s not going to be as much pain as the 400. I’m not going to constantly ask myself am I going to make it all the way through. So it’s always constantly going through my head.
DH: Is it the pain of running it or is it more of a fear of failure type of thing?
TL: It’s a fear of failure. I go into every race thinking that I’m going to lose. But my mentality is that I’m thinking I’m going to lose, so I do everything to try not to lose. So I’m kind of worried that even if I try everything that I’m still going to lose.
DH: And you've always been like that?
TL: Ever since I’ve been running the 400, that’s the only thing that’s gone through my mind.
DH: How tough was that when you got here? I imagine it's a big leap from running against top competition in your home state to running routinely against the best in the country?
TL: That was something I had to get through to myself. In high school the big track meet is the state meet. Once you get to college, every track meet is like the state meet.
DH: So what happens if you get over that fear of failure? Is it something you need to hang on to as motivation?
TL: I won’t say I hang on to it. If it goes, it goes. But maybe it will be replaced by me being a whole lot more confident, and maybe if I’m more confident, I’ll run faster.
DH: Well let me ask you about coming to Georgia. You're from Jacksonville, and those Florida schools have some pretty successful track programs. So what led you to UGA?
TL: I tell everybody the same thing when they ask me that question. I came to visit Georgia, and it felt very comfortable to me. The team felt like a family and Coach Stuart felt like a father to me. Ever since I came to Georgia I’ve felt that way. I haven’t felt like I made a wrong decision.
DH: I heard UGA was on you a bit earlier than most other programs. Did that have a lot to do with you coming here? Did it sort of help build some trust that they came after you first?
TL: Not really. My whole senior year I was just trying not to focus on what school I was going to pick. I was just trying to focus on getting through my senior year. The whole picking a school thing just stressed me out. When I came here, I was just comfortable.
DH: I know your mom is a big factor in your life and your sister was a collegiate athlete, too. How big a role did they play in the process?
TL: Well my mom, when I was picking schools, she kind of weeded out all the schools she didn’t think I would do well at. My sister, she was doing her basketball thing and in college, so she was more moral support.
DH: So you said you are taking all the accolades in stride, but I'm guessing your mom is probably pretty excited about everything you've accomplished.
TL: She’s excited. She is really excited. She brags to all her coworkers, she puts it all over Facebook. It’s crazy.
DH: Are you used to all the attention that comes with success? All the feedback you get after your mom boasts about you on Facebook?
TL: I’m trying to get used to it. It’s cool to a certain extent. I got so many text messages right after I ran, it was just overwhelming.
DH: Georgia is a program that has certainly had its share of highlights in track & field, but you're doing some things that haven't been done at UGA in a long time, if ever. Do you feel like you're really making your mark on the program?
TL: I don’t take it as I’m doing it by myself. I see it as, if I do something, then the team is doing it. If I win a national championship, then the team won a national championship. So I think just me personally, if I go out there and win something, it’s not me making the program better, it’s the whole team making the program better. Because at the end of the day, my teammates helped me and my coaches helped me along the way.
DH: Does that mentality help with the whole fear of failure thing?
TL: My teammates, they talk to me, and they’re more confident than I am. Sometimes I’m like, ‘Man, I don’t really want to do this, I don’t really want to run against this person.’ And they’re like, ‘Well, you’ve already run against them and run faster than them, so what are you scared of?’ So when you start to think about it like that, it’s a lot easier.
DH: Do you get recognized a lot around campus now? Are you on par with the football team in terms of popularity?
TL: People, they know who I am. I don’t get the recognition of a football player, but people know who I am. Some people will stop me on campus and talk to me and tell me they read about me in the newspaper or saw me on the news and stuff like that.
DH: Every time I post anything about you on our blog, I inevitably get comments from readers wanting to know if you have any interest in returning kicks or punts for the football team. Have you ever considered that?
TL: A football coach did talk to me one time, but I told him I could catch. So that was that.
DH: So does any of the fame you're getting now go to your head?
TL: My mom, if I ever got a big head, my mom would probably just beat it out of me. My mom is like my rock. She’s my foundation.
DH: I heard you were heavily involved in ROTC in high school, too. That's not an environment where you're encouraged to stand out from the crowd necessarily. Was that a big influence on how you approach your life on and off the track?
TL: ROTC basically taught me a whole bunch of discipline, and that discipline just carried over into track. It gave me a hard work ethic in track and the will to keep on going even when I was tired or I was upset or sick or something like that.
DH: You're getting ready to start outdoor season, but you didn't race much outdoors last year. What happened?
TL: I got hurt, and it was my first major injury. I did something to my hip flexor, we don’t know quite what it was called. But it was my first major injury since I started running track. So it may have healed, but the mental stress of it – because it was my first major injury and then I go from running certain times to running slower – it affected me mentally.
DH: For someone who already has some mental obstacles you set for yourself, how hard was that to get past?
TL: It was hard to get over. But I just needed some time to work through everything.
DH: What's the future for you? Do you have some particular aspirations in mind for your career?
TL: I don’t see the future past the next meet. This next meet, I’m just trying to go out there and have my team win.
DH: So you're not looking down the road and thinking about things like the Olympics?
TL: Everybody wants to run in the Olympics. But at the same time, if I’m focused on the Olympics, I’m going to miss out on a lot of things that are in front of me right now and miss a lot of opportunities.
DH: So if all the awards and accolades and attention isn't something you take too seriously, what is it that has been the coolest part about your rise to stardom? What do you like best about being an All-American runner?
TL: The pretty cool part is whenever I get to see myself run. It’s like, everybody else sees it and they’re like so awe-struck by it. I see it and I’m like, wow, I can’t believe that’s me.
DH: That's interesting. I guess I'm used to dealing with football players who watch hours of film of themselves or baseball players constantly critiquing their swing. So you don't watch yourself very often?
TL: Yeah, I rarely get to see myself run, so when I do, it’s just like, I can’t believe it.
DH: Does that help boost your confidence?
TL: I’m always racing against myself. That’s why I don’t want to let myself down by not beating myself.
DH: So what do you like to do when you're not out on the track?
TL: I just hang around with my friends. I talk to my best friend all the time. She’s back in Jacksonville, and we talk non-stop, all the time. But, that’s pretty much it.
DH: And what about with your teammates?
TL: It’s a family atmosphere. The track team, we do everything together. We eat together, we hang out together, we go to the movies together. It’s like brother and sister and everybody’s in the family.
DH: So are you excited about what's in store during outdoor season? Or are you nervous since you didn't run much last year?
TL: I think I like outdoor better than I like indoor. Indoor is a lot more stressful. It takes a lot more thinking than outdoor does. When you run the 400 indoor, you have to constantly think about, OK, I have to do this, I have to beat this person to the break, I have to stay in front, I can’t let anybody pass me. Outdoor, running the 400, it’s not beating anybody first to the break because everybody is in their own lane the whole way around.
DH: Any goals in mind for the season?
TL: I have a certain goal that I set – but it’s between me and Coach Stu. All I do know is that if I do get it, he’ll shave his head.
For what it's worth, Lawrence's coach, Jon Stuart, let the cat out of the bag on that one...
“I have a little bit of a wager," Stuart said. "I told him I’d let him shave all of my hair off at one of the track meets in front of everybody if he ran a 44.20. Of course, I wouldn’t mind that at all. If he runs a 44.20, that puts him in some elite company. He’s already put himself in the elite company with the times he’s run indoors, but there is no indoor Olympic games. Outdoor is what’s most important I think, and if he can run 44.20, I’ll be willing to do something silly like that if it helps motivate him, definitely.”
And here are a few other nuggets from Stuart, too...
On Lawrence's recruitment...
“I’ve always had to be very opportunistic when it comes to recruiting. At Georgia, we’ve never had the top athletes in the country calling us. We’ve just had to go out and find them. We’ve got to go find them, kick down doors and things like that. But Torrin was just a guy that we knew he was talented, but we just didn’t know. I don’t think any coach in the country was going to look at his times from his junior year and say, this is a guy we’ve got to go get. He was just kind of a mystery. But we brought him in for a visit and as soon as he got home, the next weekend he ran some ridiculous time – one in the (200) and one in the (400). And so we immediately made him the big offer, and here he comes. So it was sort of a timing thing, but I guess we get rewarded for out-hustling some people.”
On what impact Lawrence's success has had on current recruiting...
“We have yet to see the fruits of that labor. I still don’t have the top guys calling me because Torrin ran fast. I get a lot of kids calling me, but we’ll find out next year. Next year is when we’re going to be able to tell.”
On Lawrence and the Olympics...
“We just want to go and get as many NCAA championships as we can before he graduates. The 2012 Olympics, of course, are going to be a possible goal. World Championships next year in 2011 might be a possibility. Those are long-range goals and we can’t worry about them now, but I can see that being in the future. I don’t like to make bold predictions like he’s going to do this and that, but I can say that when the Olympic trials come in 2012, I can definitely see him in the final, right there leaning at the tape to get a spot on the Olympic team.”