The label attached to Deron Thompson at the 2011 state track and field meet was the sort of designation sprinters crave — one of the state’s fastest athletes.
It was a label Thompson earned by finishing fourth in the Class 6A 200 meters as a freshman.
It was a label Thompson often backed up, including that 100 meters he ran in 10.6 seconds in 2013.
But Thompson didn’t have the kind of bling needed to expand that label. He did not have a state title.
He does now. On Saturday, the Wichita Northwest sprinter won two, taking the 6A 100 meters in 10.74 seconds and the 200 in 21.99.
“There’s a lot of relief,” Thompson said after he won the 100, edging Wichita East’s Calil Burnett, who finished in 10.86. “I had a lot of weight on my shoulders because everybody expected me to win.
“Being injured the past two years and not being able to compete like I wanted to at state, I knew this was my last chance. I put in the work.”
Thompson finished fifth in the 100 in 2012, despite battling a quadriceps injury, finishing in 10.91 seconds.
He then ran for 1,476 yards for the football team. He earned All-Metro honors that season and has signed to play at Colorado State.
But the next track season, Thompson went 10.6 early in the season, only to pull up in the 6A preliminaries of the 100 with a hamstring injury.
“I heard the criticisms — ‘oh, he gets injured, this and this,’ ” Thompson said. “ Pretty much everyone was saying ‘we know he’s the fastest guy, but he doesn’t have any state titles.’ I just ignored it and put in the work.”
There are athletes who are quick to blame any difficulties on injuries. But Northwest coach Ron Russell said that’s not the case with Thompson.
“I’ve had sprinters in the past, once they got hurt, might as well call it a career,” Russell said. “They continue to go for that hamstring or that quad or whatever they have tweaked, they’re looking to use that, ‘Oh, I could have done this, but this happened.’
“Not Deron. Whenever he runs a race, win or lose, he’s humble.”
As much as football is Thompson’s first sport, he prides himself on also being a track athlete. So he worked to find ways to better maintain his body.
Thompson focused on warming up longer, preparing better. Russell adjusted the workout schedule a bit.
Thompson took ice baths after most workouts, had standing appointments with the chiropractor twice a week, he used stimulation on his hamstring even though it’s not hurt, and he lifted weights harder than ever.
When he realized his body was getting a bit too bulky for track, Thompson pulled back some, yet is still only five or so pounds off his football playing weight.
The work was for a simple reason — Thompson badly wanted a gold in track.
“Yeah, that’s pretty much it,” he said. “Yeah, pretty much just working for that state title that I knew I could get, that I should have got. And pretty much knowing that you can’t go out knowing you’re the fastest guy or everyone thinks you’re the fastest guy, without any proof.
“I wanted to prove it. I wanted it to be on paper. I might not have got the time that I wanted, but I got first place, and that’s what I wanted.”
He was pressed all season by East’s Burnett, as they traded wins. Both won their heats during the 100 prelims Saturday morning.
“Having that competition there, pushing him along, that person that, ‘if I’m not at the top of my game, I’m not going to do well,’ ” Russell said. “The added pressure knowing that he’s one of the best in the state and you’re running against one of the best in the state. You can’t relax.”
During Saturday’s finals, Thompson knew Burnett was his primary competition.
“I knew everybody had a chance, but I knew it was specifically me and Calil,” Thompson said. “All year it’s been 1 and 2 with me and him.”
Thompson trailed Burnett until he started to pull away in about the last 20 meters.
Then in the 200, Thompson tweaked his groin muscle a bit, slowing his time and affecting him in the 1600 relay to end the meet. But in that 200, he was relaxed.
There was no pressure. He already was a champ. Now he was just running, running like the sprinter he is, running like he’s one of the fastest athletes in Kansas.
Which he is.
He’s got the medal to prove it.