Douglas Byrd's Eric Winfrey named Gatorade's North Carolina Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year

The Monday after Douglas Byrd's boys won the 3-A state track and field title, giving the school its first NCHSAA team championship in any sport, senior Eric Winfrey could sense principal Dan Krumanocker's excitement.

The first thing he said was, 'How many rings do we need to get and what size?' Winfrey recalled.

Winfrey graduated from Byrd earlier this month but picked up another prestigious victory Wednesday.

Winfrey, who is in Eugene, Ore., this weekend for the USA Junior Outdoor Championships, was named the Gatorade North Carolina Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year.

The award recognizes athletic excellence, academic achievement and character.

Since the 10th grade I had heard about that award and was hoping I could get it my senior year if I worked hard enough and kept my grades up, Winfrey said.

Winfrey became a three-time state champion in the 400 meters and ran the anchor leg for the title-clinching 4x400 relay team at the 3-A meet in May. A South Carolina signee, he won a combined nine NCHSAA titles (counting individual events and relays) as an indoor and outdoor competitor.

He had a weighted GPA of 3.92 and volunteered locally by feeding the homeless, assisting the elderly in his neighborhood and mentoring freshmen in his school.

Eric is successful in whatever he does, Tiffany Harris, a Byrd track coach, said in the Gatorade press release. I've known him since middle school, and track has really changed his life. He was always fast, but he listened, and he put the work in. He's shown great dedication, and that's made him a well-rounded student-athlete.

Winfrey is one of three local athletes who qualified for the USA Junior Outdoor Championships. He is scheduled to run in the preliminaries of the 200 meters today at 7:25 p.m. EDT and participate in the final of the 400 meters about an hour later.

Jack Britt graduate Joseph Cotto, a rising sophomore at Charlotte, ran the 10,000 meters Friday and finished 16th with a time of 33 minutes, 48 seconds. Sanura Eley-O'Reilly, a Jack Britt alum who recently completed her freshman year at South Carolina, did not start in the 400 prelims. Staff writer Bret Strelow can be reached at strelowb@fayobserver.com or 486-3513. WINFREY'S COMPANY

A Douglas Byrd student has been named the Gatorade North Carolina Track and Field Athlete of the Year four times:

Male winners

1999: Thomas Lewis

2011: Eric Winfrey

Female winners

1996: Adriane Sims

1997: Adriane Sims

Other local winners

Female

2010: Sanura Eley-O'Reilly (Jack Britt)

1988: Demetria Washington (Terry Sanford)

1995: Twyla Smith (Pinecrest)

Male

1986: Tarrell Carpenter (Hoke County)