Boys Track: Young’s Dakarai Howard takes chargeKevin Ward of Providence trails behind Darakai Howard of Young in the 400-meter run. Patrick Gleason ~ For the Sun-Times
Updated: April 12, 2012 5:14PM
Dakarai Howard doesn’t have a lot of experience running the 400 meters, even though he’s a senior.
So the Young sprinter consulted an expert on the subject: Raena Rhone, who won the last two Class 3A girls 400 titles for the Dolphins before moving on to a college career at Baylor.
“I started listening to her strategies,” Howard said. “She told me to take it out a little more aggressive than I was already and just closing [strong].
“At first, I was playing more of a chasing game. Now I’m trying more of a leading game.”
It’s paying off. Howard, who ran 49.74 seconds to win a sectional title and qualify for state last spring, already is faster than that this year. He won the 400 at last Saturday’s Blue Smoke Invitational hosted by Thornridge with a 49.40.
That has him right on pace, according to Young coach Eric Wiegmann. “We want to improve on what he did last year. We want to get him into the finals Downstate and see what happens.”
Howard didn’t have a good state meet a year ago, running a 50.22 in the prelims and failing to advance. But it was still a promising year for a guy who didn’t run the 400 indoors in 2011 and had competed in the event only a handful of times before the state series.
“I think the sky’s the limit for him,” Wiegmann said. “He’s still relatively new to the event.”
For his first couple of seasons at Young, Howard was down on the depth chart, below sprinters like 2010 state qualifier Cameron Allen.
Even when he got a chance to run the 400 last year, he said, “I was pretty unsure of myself. I just wanted to compete and have fun, but I started really seeing where I stood.”
Howard played football last fall, so didn’t have a chance to take part in Wiegmann’s offseason track workouts. “But he’s worked his butt off [since],” the coach said.
Now, Howard is taking Rhone’s advice, which also aligns with what his coaches have been saying. “We’ve been yelling at him the entire indoor season that he’s been too passive,” Wiegmann said. “We’re trying to get him to be aggressive in the first 100 meters and not [sit] back. His closing speed is phenomenal.”
He’ll need it when the Public League meet rolls around, because the 400 looks to be loaded. Northside’s Mac Melto was seventh in the Class 3A 400 last spring, and won the event in Class 2A at last month’s unofficial indoor state meet. Others to watch include North Lawndale’s Deshaun Jordan, Morgan Park’s Stedman Foster and Brooks’ Malik Lee.
Howard had an off day at indoor state, running a 53.15. But he’s still dreaming big dreams, including placing at state in the 400 and helping get the Dolphins’ 1,600 relay team to state.
“I do feel a little stronger, more confident in my 400 skills,” he said. “I just need to utilize my technique.”
And listen to people like Raena Rhone.