Track stars from the Southland are making their mark on the gridiron

Let me offer a definite trend for the 2022 high school football season: If you ran track last spring, you’re probably doing quite well. All those electrifying sprinters from March, April and May aren’t worried what stopwatches are saying right now. They’re scoring touchdowns, running away from defenders and using their explosiveness to make life miserable for receivers.

Take the case of Rowan Heidt, a 100-meter runner for Oak Park High and three-sport athlete with a 4.6 grade-point average. He ran for 150 yards against Ventura Buena, 106 yards against Calabasas and 172 yards against Brentwood.

“When I get the ball and see a hole, track helped my explosiveness,” he said. “I definitely feel faster.”

There’s junior Jordan Washington of Long Beach Jordan. He burst on the track scene as a sophomore by running a 10.31 seconds for 100 meters. He’s been a blur in football with a couple long runs this season. Catch him if you can, but often you can’t. Instead of wasting his time with seven-on-seven competitions, his ability to get faster and faster through track has made him unique.

“Track really helped me improve my level of game on a whole [other] level,” he said. “Gave me good core strength, all power from the feet. Not only did it give me tremendous amount of speed, but it taught me how to constantly use it. Players learn to breathe better from technique, which helps us last longer on the field.”



Of course, there’s the fastest teenager in America, defensive back Rodrick Pleasant of Gardena Serra. He set a state record at 100 meters at 10.14. On his first play of the season, he returned an interception for a touchdown. He scored his first touchdown on offense last week but is just warming up when it comes to unleashing his speed.

“I’m planning to get a pick,” he said of his matchup against Downey Warren quarterback Nico Iamaleava on Friday night.

The No. 1 team in Southern California, Santa Ana Mater Dei, has football players running for the school’s sprint relay team.

Speed matters in track and football.

“The secret is out at Mater Dei and more places too,” said Sam Collins, one of Mater Dei’s track coaches. “All the parents from football are seeking me out to get info on getting on the track team.”

There’s nothing surprising or new about track and field helping football players add to their skills. Almost every year, NFL draft picks have extensive backgrounds as multiple-sport athletes. A 2020 survey from found that 143 NFL players (56%) participated in track and field.

“If you wanna be a better football player, you must run track,” Washington said. “It will separate you from the others, as all these great athletes this year is showing.“

Granada Hills’ Dijon Stanley, the fastest returning 400-meter runner in the state with a scholarship awaiting him at Utah, had nine carries for 170 yards in his only appearance this season, including a long run of 56 yards.

It’s like a mini-track meet watching all these players unleash their explosive speed.

Rowan Heidt of Oak Park has used track to improve his speed as a running back, with three games above 100 yards rushing this season.

(Corey Coulter)

Heidt’s best 100 time doesn’t match Washington or Pleasant. He ran 11.2 but his speed is having an impact for the 3-0 Eagles. He has two touchdown runs beyond 50 yards.

“I love to assert physicality early in games and make them not want to tackle. That’s when I start opening the speed around the edge,” said the 6-foot, 210-pound senior.

So are we watching track athletes playing football or football players running track?

“It’s about honing,” Heidt said. “Track athletes playing football you notice them running past people. With Pleasant, you know he’s running track when he’s on the football field. That’s next-level speed.”

Heidt said explosiveness is learned in the spring when getting out of starting blocks and being taught techniques how to run and move arms in unison.

“The track guys are really good football players and athletes,” Pleasant said.

Yes, it’s trend you can see every Friday night this fall.

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