EVANSTON - Reggie Murphy drove from Evanston to Baltimore to compete against the best sprinters in the country last week.
The Wildkits sophomore-to-be then ran away from most of the competition at the USATF Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships and came back to his hometown as one of the best in the nation.
“He left Illinois as a regional champion and returned as an All-American,” said Evanston boys track and field coach Don Michelin. “That’s quite a feat for that young man.”
Murphy, 15, separated himself by advancing through all of the qualifying stages, eventually earning himself a spot as one of the eight fastest in the intermediate division, a group which includes 15- and 16-year-olds.
One of the youngest runners in the finals, Murphy finished eighth in 11.34 seconds. Kenzo Cotton, a state champion from Nebraska, finished first in 10.71.
“I’m so proud of how (Reggie) stood up to the nation and competed against those guys, many of whom won state championships,” Michelin said. “There were fantastic athletes across that line.”
Murphy ran the best race of his life at Morgan State’s Hughes Stadium to get to the finals. He carried the butterflies in his stomach to a career-best 10.93 to qualify for the national finals.
“I was surprised,” he said. “Going in, I knew there were a lot of faster times than mine. I was skeptical whether or not I could make it.
“It was pretty amazing to be there with the best of the best.”
One of 64 runners in the field, Murphy got to the semis with an 11.18 time. Michelin knew that wasn’t his student’s best, but the coach appreciated the Murphy’s effort to advance.
Looking back, Murphy said his semifinal race - the one where he set his own personal-best time - was the most teeth-chattering of them all.
“I was extremely nervous,” he said. “If I didn’t come in second in my heat or get the time, I would not have made the final. That was the most stressful day, even more than the final.
“But I think the nerves helped my performance.”
Michelin is doing his best to hold himself back. But the veteran coach knows Murphy is on a road to the ultimate destination.
“It’s the natural course,” Michelin said of the Olympic Games. “We got an eyeful of some fine performances, and America is doing fine. So yeah, this is the path you want to travel if you want to go all the way.”