Maguire Neal got over one extra hurdle, to reach the top of the podium.
That hurdle was a disappointing performance in the 110-meter hurdles. Had the Zephyrhills High senior track star done better, he’s not sure he would have had the drive to become the first Zephyrhills High athlete to bring home the 300-meter hurdles state title.
“When I did the 110, I didn’t do so hot,” the senior sprinter explained.
“(Doing poorly on the 110) pushed me harder to do better in the 300. I knew I’d have to go hard.
“I was nervous in the blocks, but once I was out of those, everything was smooth.”
“Honestly, it was a blessing in disguise — that he didn’t do so well in the 110 hurdles,” said Bryan Thomas, Neal’s coach. “I feel he would’ve been more complacent if he had been able to get on the podium.
“So not taking that podium (for the 110), he went out and ran the 300 with that edge that really helped. I’d never seen him attack the hurdles that way.”
Neal competed in four events at the Class 3A track and field state championships on May 13, at the Florida-Percy Beard Track Stadium at the University of Florida, in Gainesville.
In addition to the 110- and 300-meter hurdles, he also ran in the 100-meter and the 4×100-meter relay.
It was finishing 10th in the 110 hurdles that proved to be the extra motivation.
“I’d been running the 300 hurdles since freshman year,” Neal said. “I was thinking, yeah, by senior year I should be close to or getting a state championship.”
He credits his sister, Maya, for helping him to become a better hurdler.
Indeed, Maya, was a track star at Zephyrhills, finishing in the Top 5, when she was a senior.
“Maya was great for us here at Zephyrhills, but she was like, ‘My brother is better,’” Thomas recalled. “She used to show me videos of him and say, ‘He’s going to come here and run — he’s at Centennial Middle!’ … Just seeing him develop over the years, I knew he was going to be something special. Seeing him become a state champ was just icing on the cake for him.
“It has been a blessing to coach this kid,” the coach added.
Thomas is no stranger to the track and field state championships. After winning the long jump state title in 2006 (and playing college football for the University of Florida and North Alabama), he returned to his alma mater as an assistant football coach in 2016.
Neal is the second state champ that Thomas has coached. The first was Cartrell Strong, who won the triple jump state title in 2019.
Thomas acknowledged that not only does running track run in the Neal family, but that the family support system was key for Maguire.
“As a coach, you wish every athlete had that,” Thomas said. “They’re at every event, they ask if they can help out the team with tents and water — they’re unbelievable. A lot of what he does on the field and on the track is for his family.”
Maguire said the support he receives from his family has been invaluable.
“My whole family has always had my back and has been at every race. “I couldn’t’ve (won states) without them,” he said.
Initially, he couldn’t believe that he’d won the race.
“When I crossed the (finish) line I was just in shock, really. It finally hit me when the medal was put around my neck,” he said.
The athlete’s future is filled with possibilities.
He’s committed to play football, and run track, at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
He left for Charlotte on May 20, but will be back to attend Zephyrhills’ graduation at the University of South Florida on June 9.
Now, as he graduates, he’ll leave high school with a little extra hardware.
On the podium
Several other track and field athletes shined during the state meets in May. Here are a list of the individuals that placed in the top three, in their respective events:
300-meter hurdles – Camila Garaton – Carrollwood Day – Sr. – 44.88
1600 meter – Brooke Reif – Wharton – Sr. – 4:53.27
1600 meter – Alex Pena – Sunlake – Jr. – 4:14.18
3200 meter – Zack Poekert – Cypress Creek – Jr. – 9:16.93
Discus – Isaiah Tavo – Land O’ Lakes – Sr. – 51.59m
400-meter – Serenity Brazell – Wharton – Jr. – 55.03
Discus – Leighann Hanley – Carrollwood Day – So. – 34.80m
Javelin – Aiden Marsh – Land O’ Lakes – Jr. – 52.32m
Published May 25, 2022