Deptford Boys Track takes title and makes history, too

Deptford Township High School’s 4X55-meter shuttle hurdle team of seniors Tyrece Brown, Naseem Smith, Tyriq Bundy, and Khi’on Smith ran a 29.45, the fastest time ever at the Bennet Complex, a new overall state relays record, and the fourth fastest time, regardless of venue or event, in New Jersey scholastic history. From left to right: Bundy, Naseem Smith, and Brown. Khi’on Smith was on a college visit when the photo was taken at a recent practice. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)

Some members of the Deptford Township High School boys winter track team are known to walk with a little swagger and talk with a lot of confidence about the program’s talent.

Perhaps that’s because some members of the Spartans team can run times better than anyone in the United States.

Those two points converged on Friday, Jan. 18, at the NJSIAA Group 2 Relay Championships at the Bennett Complex in Toms River. Deptford collected a Group 2 state title and made history, too.

The 4×55-meter shuttle hurdle team of seniors Tyrece Brown, Naseem Smith, Tyriq Bundy and Khi’on Smith ran a 29.45, the fastest time ever at the Bennet Complex, a new overall state relays record, and the fourth-fastest time, regardless of venue or event, in New Jersey scholastic history.

“It was a really awesome experience, considering it was our first state relay team championship in school history,” Deptford head coach Kevin Sherry said. “So last year we won the individual state relay meet; this was a state relay meet. So it was a little something different and an awesome accomplishment. And the fact that these guys had to do three or four events for some of them, and come back after event and event and really run fast times and have enough to finish the day out the right way and get the points that we needed, it was pretty special.”

Special, but perhaps not unexpected by the kids running the races. The success of Deptford’s track program over the years simply breeds more success. And that begins with setting lofty expectations to achieve that success.

“My freshman year out here, we were doing warm-ups and a senior captain was talking and he started snapping on us, saying ‘we don’t lose’ and this and that,” explained Brown. “I’m thinking he’s just mad or whatever, but he wasn’t mad, he was just being real serious for us. He didn’t like losing, and that rubbed off on me.

“Once I lose a race, I was the maddest person in the world. I’d go to practice right after the meet, like, I feel like I have to do this. And we’re all like that. Losing, you can call it motivation or whatever you want to call it, but we don’t like losing. Losing is the worst thing you can do.”

So the goal is simple: to avoid losing, you have to win.

“Winning state championships is regular for Deptford, I feel like every time you turn around, someone is winning a state championship,” Brown continued. “But now we’re the team that’s bringing it all together and winning the whole meet, so, I really feel like it’s regular for us. We keep winning.”

“It definitely sets a mark for future Spartans,” added Naseem Smith, who will run at Syracuse University next year.

“This is my life,” added Bundy, when asked if they treat running like a job. “It’s all I do.”

The ironic thing is hurdles was something Bundy and Khi’on Smith did not do until last month.

When senior Javon Sanders, one of the team’s best sprinters and hurdlers, was unable to run this year due to injury, the coaching staff had to improvise. Since both Bundy and Smith had dabbled in hurdles during practice, Lois Stewart, who coaches the hurdlers, asked Sherry if she could take them for her shuttle relay team.

And, just like that, first-time hurdlers are setting state marks that stand as the fastest mark in the country as of mid-January?

“It’s pretty amazing,” Sherry said.

“Coach Stewart, she’s does her thing,” Bundy said. “After a month of training and hard work, it’s easy now.”

“Coach Stewart worked her magic, that’s what it is,” Brown added. “She worked her magic. She’s special.”

What kind of magic? Stewart, a Deptford alum like Sherry, who went on to run at Norfolk State, simply remembers the things she was taught as a young hurdler.

“There are no secrets, I go back to basics, the things I learned as a hurdler, they’re ingrained in me,” she said. “And I’m a visual person, so I like to get out there and show them what I mean and what I want, so I demonstrate what I want. But they’re really good at picking up what I’m asking them to do.”

Bundy and Khi’on Smith joined the shuttle hurdles relay team a week before Christmas. Four weeks later, they were champions.

“It was amazing,” Stewart said with a laugh. “All I wanted them to do is stay on their feet. Four hurdles, that’s all. I was shocked. When I saw the clock at 29 I said, ‘That can’t be right.’ I’m still in shock and in awe of them.”

Deptford’s track team is just getting started. The Spartans will compete in the sectional championships this weekend (Feb. 4) and the NJSIAA State Group meet in mid-February, which could all lead to an even more prosperous spring season before the Smith brothers, Bundy and Brown graduate in June.