Smoke rose behind the starting line at the Class 4A regional as Valley Center's Joe Fisher and Wichita Trinity's Morgan Burns exploded out of their blocks to start the 100 meters.
The smoky backdrop, created by the Andale High's concession stand grill, was fitting imagery as two of the state's top sprinters blazed down the track.
Burns and Fisher have consistently put up some of the state's top times in the 100 and 200 this season — and will compete at the 100th Kansas track and field meet at Cessna Stadium today and Saturday.
Both are mild-mannered and quick to smile, and both took different journeys to reach this track meet.
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Proven elite athlete
Mention the state's top sprinters of the past few years, and Burns, a junior, has to be in the mix. Even before his freshman season, he'd competed in the AAU Junior Olympics. A back injury kept him from the state meet in 2008, but he made up for it in 2009, winning the 100 and the 200.
The junior is well-built and strong, an excellent physique for a sprinter, but his focus is on football.
He was an All-Metro football selection in 2009, as well as an All-Class 4A basketball and football honorable-mention selection. Kansas State and Colorado State have offered him football scholarships.
He plans on attending football camps this summer, possibly at Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Kansas and Texas Christian.
"Football starts on the first of June," Burns said.
But don't think for a minute that Burns isn't interested in defending his track titles this weekend. No matter what he does, he gives all he has.
He's worked to get into track shape, he's changed his weightlifting routine. He's enjoyed being pushed by Garden Plain's Kurt Pauly, who signed with Nebraska and is the defending 3A champ in the 100, 200 and 400. They raced often against each other this season and both fed off that.
"People have come up to me and said, 'Morgan, you have a talent, use it,' " Burns said. "People tell me all the time, God's given you this talent, use it.' I know He's given me this talent and I have to use it.... I am using it and I'm giving it the best of my ability.
"I like winning. But losing isn't the end of the world."
This season has brought different pressures; as the defending sprint champ, all others are gunning for him. Heading into regionals, classmates often asked who would win between him and Fisher.
Fisher swept the 100 and the 200 at regionals. Burns hasn't conceded the 4A races, though.
"Oh no," he said with a laugh. "I'm still going to do my best. If he wins, congratulations to him. If I go up and win, that's great."
Fisher didn't appear out of nowhere. He finished seventh and fifth in the Class 5A 100 and 200 in 2009. Coach Daniel Smith figured he'd be running a 10.7, 10.8 consistently this season.
After watching Fisher run at state last May, Smith teased him about how he looked like a boy running against men. Fisher was all of 135 pounds.
Fisher immediately focused on lifting weights.
"It's what turned him from another fast guy into an elite guy," Smith said."... He's cut. He's changed his body type. He went from being a little skinny guy to being somebody who has definition."
That helped Fisher's explosion out of the starting blocks. He already had a fast leg turnover, but the increased power put him on another level.
Fisher also has a chip on his shoulder.
"That motivates you, makes you naturally work harder," he said. "'Why can't I get recognized? I'm running fast, but I'm not getting anything.' By working harder and staying under the radar, it has slowly progressed to me being on the radar map."
His first statement came at Wichita State's Pre-State Challenge, when he ran with Burns in the 100 and beat him in the 200.
"It felt really good. 'OK, I can run with Burns now. We can compete,' " Fisher said.
Fisher has the state's top 100 time, a hand-timed 10.3, and the top 200 time (21.6).
He plans to spend his summer on the track — and in the weight room, of course. He's been invited to the elite Southwest Track Classic in New Mexico June 3-4. Another sign that he's made it.
Now he's working for a Division I scholarship.
That's his ultimate goal.
Same as Burns, just a different sport.