The start of the 2014 track and field season couldn’t have gone any better for Wadsworth’s Hunter Williams.
The senior was winning races, taking huge chunks off his times in the sprints and was leading the Grizzlies to another solid season.
Then he got news no one wants to hear.
Williams had to have surgery on his neck midway through the spring to remove a lymph node.
“I was worried because I wasn’t sure how long I would be out,” he said. “It kind of bummed me out because I really wanted to make it to state.”
The 18-year-old got that chance two weeks later and made the most of it, becoming the first sprinter in school history to qualify in two events and, in turn, earning Gazette MVP.
Williams wasn’t sure that would have been possible after missing meets with Tallmadge and Highland and the Willoughby South Invitational.
It wasn’t easy coming back.
Williams struggled in the 100- and 200-meter dashes at the Jackson Twilight Invitational in his return and a week later fell short of repeating as 100 champion at the Suburban League Meet.
“It was pretty tough,” he said. “There were some bumps along the way, but it helped prepare me. I wanted to win more, try harder in practice and run to my full potential.
“I just had to go out and do the things I’ve always done: Progress my time and get faster.”
The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder did just that.
With every race in the final three weeks of the season, he seemed to add just another ounce of determination. He wasn’t going to be denied.
“He really took it to heart what happened at the SL,” Grizzlies coach D.J. Schrock said. “I saw it in practice after he turned it up a notch. Even in the way he warmed up, the focus was there.”
Williams won the Nordonia Division I District in the 100 and 200 and helped the 4×200 relay to a regional berth.
He followed by erasing any bad memories he had of Austintown Fitch from a year before, as he took second in the 200 and fourth in the 100 at the Youngstown Regional to secure his first trip to Columbus.
Qualifying in two sprints was also something that had never been done in the storied history of Wadsworth athletics.
“To do that, he will go down as one of the best Wadsworth sprinters,” Schrock said. “It’s even more amazing with how tough our district and regional are. It just shows how talented he really is.”
After failing to make the 100 final on the first night of the state meet, Williams found enough fuel in the tank to power his way to the ninth and final qualifying time for the 200 final.
But he wasn’t just happy to be running in front of thousands of fans at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. He wanted more.
Williams clocked a season-low 21.70 to take sixth in the final. It was a perfect end to an impressive postseason run.
“It motivated me,” he said of earning the last spot in the finals. “It gave me that extra fire to get through the finish line.”
It took Williams a couple of moments to realize what it meant to be standing on the podium as one of the top sprinters in the state.
“If you see him run, he has such power and strength,” Schrock said. “That has helped him, but the other thing is that he’s so competitive. That set him apart. He knows going in that he wants to win.
“Like even after running at state, you could see that he wanted to do better. That shows how special he is.”
Determination like that has set Williams apart, but it’s something future Grizzlies will be striving to be like when they lace up their cleats.
“It means a lot to be the school’s first to go down in two events,” he said.
Contact Dan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.