If there is a way to do it, it’s a safe bet Leonard Paulk even sleeps fast. After all, he talks with a rapid-fire, staccato delivery, one thought chasing the other. And in the fall, he chases opposing wide receivers with the same abandon.
In the spring, it’s speed reduced to the basics, because the only one Paulk has to chase is himself.
“In football, you have to break down to make sure the opponent doesn’t juke you,” said Paulk, a senior sprinter at Richland Northeast. “In track, you just go all out. It’s your speed versus his speed; it’s whoever gets there the fastest.”
Paulk’s mettle will be tested more this weekend than it has been previously this season. The Taco Bell Track Classic at Spring Valley High features some of the best sprinters from the Eastern Seaboard, including one from a few miles up the road — Spring Valley’s Rachaunn Ruffin.
Ruffin is seeded fourth in the 100 meters and sixth in the 200 (Paulk is seeded 29th and 25th, respectively), so it will be a challenge, but Paulk has been narrowing the gap with Ruffin. In the 200, for instance, Ruffin has the best time in the state this year, 22.24 seconds, but Paulk was clocked in 22.26 in a meet Monday.
So whether it’s Ruffin or Dorman’s Marcus Rowland — who has clocked the best 100 time, 10.40, in the state this year — or someone else, it doesn’t make a difference. The person Paulk is trying to beat is himself.
“It’s one-on-one. I can’t blame anybody,” he said. “In football, if the offense doesn’t score points, you can blame somebody else.
“In track, there’s only me. I can’t worry about anybody losing but me. It’s on me. If I lose, I just have to work harder next week so I won’t lose again.”
Paulk earned a football scholarship to play at East Carolina next year, which should not be surprising. Paulk’s older brother Rodney was recruited by East Carolina but wound up as a linebacker at the University of South Carolina.
His uncle Tim Paulk played for USC coach Steve Spurrier when Spurrier was at the Florida, and was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 1992.“That’s what I’d like to do one day (play in the NFL), but I want to run in the Olympics, too,” Leonard Paulk said.
Richland Northeast track coach Cory Head does not put that past his young pupil. If hard work will get him there, no problem. “Getting him further excited about the weekend, we don’t really need to do that,” Head said, “because he’s been anticipating this and gearing all of his (previous) meets for this.”
Reach McLaurin at (803) 240-3514.