Growing up in the same neighborhood, Malik Tuck and Carlton Watkins competed in just everything.
The two cousins were always trying to one up each other.
“We would see who can ride a bike without training wheels first and, for the most part, we’ve always been competitive in the things that kids do,” Watkins said. “We were always trying to push each other.”
Now the two are trying to one-up each other with first-place finishes on the track for their respective schools.
Over the last two years, Tuck has emerged as one of the top sprinters in Medina County for Medina, while Watkins has set the area standard in the high jump and long jump at Buckeye.
The two college-bound athletes forged a bond early on as youngsters in the Union Square Apartments. Today, they attend each other’s meets.
“In a way, we’ve always been around each other,” Tuck said. “The funny thing is that I never used to like him and we butted heads a bit, but as we got older we got closer and (our relationship) just took off.
“Now, we’re as close as can be. We talk a lot, even about deep stuff. He can come to me and I can go to him.”
While the two are the same age, Tuck is the track veteran.
As a sophomore, he burst onto the scene with the Bees’ 4×100-meter relay team that earned the final state qualifying spot at the Amherst Division I Regional in state-record time.
From that point, Tuck has been anything but an average runner.
He advanced to the state meet in two events — 200 dash and 4×4 — as a junior. This season, Tuck has consistently had the fastest county times in the 100 and 200 along with filling in on a variety sprint relays.
“I’ve been practicing really hard and now it’s getting to the emotional part,” Tuck said. “Every meet it’s like, ‘Hey, this is the last one, so it’s go hard or go home.’ I don’t want to have any regrets. Whatever happens, happens.”
Tuck has even given the shuttle hurdles a try with impressive results, showing the little kid who was never one of the top athletes on the playground is now.
“I’ll be honest, Malik was usually last picked when we played,” Watkins said. “But that’s the kid’s motivation. He bloomed his sophomore year because of that.
“He’s a great athlete and has only gotten better.”
For Watkins, playing sports has always come easy.
Just ask any cornerback in the Patriot Athletic Conference who had to face him as the high-flying wide receiver made impressive catches for the school’s football team.
Now, instead of stretching for a ball in the end zone, he’s extending his body over a bar that’s 6 feet off the ground or lunging into a sand pit.
“Football is his thing, but he’s getting a lot better (in track),” Tuck said. “He’s taken a different approach to it and has been more competitive. I’m happy for him.”
Watkins, or “Cobb” as he’s called by his friends, was one spot away from regionals a year ago in the high jump after losing a jump-off at the Orrville D-II District.
This spring, he’s not only setting personal records, but etching his name in the school’s record book.
Along with consistently leaping over 20 feet in the long jump, Watkins has used a new technique given to him by former Brunswick boys coach and current Buckeye assistant Dave Johnson in the high jump to secure the school record.
A week ago at the Ernie Moore Invitational in Doylestown, Watkins cleared 6 feet, 6½ inches to break the 19-year-old school mark by half an inch. Gordon Baugh held the previous record of 6-6 in 1992.
“To PR is one thing, but to get the school record is like killing two birds with one stone,” said Watkins, who failed to place in the Triway Invitational in the event the previous week. “At Chippewa, the guy who finished second was already out and Coach J asked me what the school record was. I said ‘It’s 6-6’ and he said ‘OK, I’ll put the bar at 6-6 ½.’
“I just stayed straight up and got it on the first jump. It just felt so good.”
Both Tuck and Watkins want to get to Columbus and represent their schools on the podium.
“We always cheer each other on,” Tuck said. “One time he told me, ‘I’m going to try and get the County MVP. I told him, ‘You’re going to have to beat me.’ I’m not worried about it.”
Contact Dan Brown at email@example.com.