Almost 11 months ago, Deron Dudley took the baton.
At last year’s Class 6A state track meet, Dudley jumped on the scene, winning the 100-meter dash and helping Wichita South to a state record in the 4x100 relay alongside Kansas high school sprinting icon Philip Landrum.
Now Dudley is working to be the Titans’ leader, carrying the banner for South track before he joins another former star halfway across the country.
Dudley is committed to High Point University in North Carolina. There, he will meet up with South and Wichita State alumnae Shamoya Pruitt, who coaches the sprinters there.
Dudley said he is excited to get out to North Carolina. He said it is going to make him into a better man, and Pruitt will be there throughout.
“I’m going to need that guidance,” he said. “She knows the lay of the land. At the same time, I just have to think for myself and know what’s right from wrong. She told me, ‘North Carolina is going to change you,’ and I want a change. I want to be my own man.”
Pruitt was one of the top performers in South High track history, coach Cody Dickman said. She is the school’s female record holder in the 100 and 200 meters, making her the fastest girl in South High history, Dickman said.
Landrum filled in as the next widely known sprinter to come out of South. He finished his career as a four-time state champion. As a junior, he won the 6A 100- and 200-meter dashes and the 4x100 relay.
And as a senior, he anchored the record-setting 4x100 team, finished fourth in the 100 meters — which still would have won the 5A race at 10.85 seconds, third in the 200 at 21.74 seconds, and fourth in the 400 — a race he had never run until last season.
That career earned him a spot at Fort Hays State.
Dickman said Dudley has benefited from watching runners like Landrum throughout high school career, but when it comes to motivation, Dudley doesn’t need any extra push.
“He has always been one of the best,” he said. “Maybe the best. You just don’t find the kids with the personality and talent that he has. He can own the room with a smile and wow you on the track.”
Dudley said he knows the pressure is on. He is trying to be more of a leader, wrapping his arms around the younger sprinters and encouraging them.
That is a challenge Dudley said he is up for. Last year, he was the underdog outside of the South program. He hadn’t won a 100-meter final all season and did it on the state stage with a massive blister on his heel. After he crossed the line, the emotions came running out.
The 6A field was loaded last season, one of the strongest in recent years. Although the race likely won’t have the hype and finish of 2018, Dudley said there are still so many great runners who will continue to push him throughout the season.
The biggest competition might even come within his own team in senior Nicomus Craig, who will run at Hutchinson Community College upon his graduation.
“Every since I won last year, my coach has asked me, ‘What’s next?’” he said. “And I know so many guys are gunning for me.
“Phil taught me to be humble. He knew he was one of the fastest guys out there, but he always stayed humble and true to himself.”
In late May, Dudley will sprint with a South track shirt on for the final time, looking to become a two-time champion. Soon after those state races at Cessna Stadium, he will pack his bags for North Carolina.
He said when he signed his National Letter of Intent, his dreams became more of a reality beyond state titles and college track.
“I want to go pro in track,” he said. “There is no limits in life. I want to make it to the Olympics.”
Pruitt said the High Point sprints program has been building for years. When she arrived last year, there were eight sprinters. Now there are 28, and next year, she expects about 40.
So Dudley will be a key cog to the system they are trying to create. And for Dudley, Pruitt will be an important source of knowledge on the transition from Wichita to what Dudley called a “country club.”
“The big thing for me was getting some kids from the Midwest to turn East Coast,” Pruitt said. “Kansas kids don’t normally get that. It is a big change, but with the innovation we have going here, the networking and career outlook is so great — even beyond track.”