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Track: It's Johnny Dutch's time to shine

With the name his parents gave him, Johnny Dutch was destined to become an athlete ... or the star of an animated series.

"It reminds me of a cartoon character, like Johnny Bravo," Dutch said recently. "It sounds fictional, like a superhero."

Dutch is no superhero, just the latest in a long line of successful South Carolina hurdlers.

The freshman from Clayton, N.C., heads into Friday's NCAA East Region meet with the fourth-fastest time in the world in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles and the confidence he can carry on the hurdles tradition that attracted him to USC.

As a highly rated recruit in the Raleigh area, Dutch was familiar with Gamecocks coach and North Carolina native Curtis Frye, who has coached a number of world-class hurdlers, including Olympians Allen Johnson and Terrence Trammell and Olympic hopeful Kenneth Ferguson.

"No other hurdles coach in the country really has (Frye's) accolades," Dutch said. "Even though he's never done the hurdles, he studies them."

Another Frye protege is a senior at USC.

Jason Richardson, a Texas native ranked No. 1 in the NCAA in the 110 high hurdles, will pass the baton as the Gamecocks' premiere hurdler to Dutch if Richardson turns pro and foregoes his final season of eligibility.

The two have a mutual respect but are not particularly close off the track.

Besides their three-year age difference, Richardson and Dutch have "completely opposite" personalities, according to Dutch. While Richardson is eccentric and outgoing, Dutch says he is more reserved until he gets to know someone.

"We respect each other, at least," Dutch said. "We might not always talk. But when it comes to practicing or track meets, we support each other and cheer each other on."

Added Richardson: "It's really hard to be close with an athlete in your event, especially with a person as competitive as Johnny. ... Johnny has some goals set out, and he has unwavering dedication that is surprising for someone his age."

The 19-year-old Dutch struggled with a groin injury during the indoor season and was considering redshirting before Frye talked him out of it.

Good thing: After a breakthrough performance at the Penn Relays, Dutch broke Ferguson's school record in the 400 hurdles with a time of 48.68 seconds at the SEC meet. Though Dutch finished second to Georgia's Justin Gaymon, his time qualified him for the U.S. Olympic Trials this summer in Eugene, Ore.

Dutch, who finished fourth in the 110 hurdles at the conference meet, this week was named the SEC's freshman male runner of the year. Richardson, who won the high hurdles at the SECs, called Dutch's performance at the meet "jaw dropping."

Even Dutch was taken aback when he glanced at the clock after the 400 at Auburn, asking a spectator to verify the time.

"Is that really 48?" Dutch, who wears contacts, recalled asking the man. "I couldn't believe it."

Frye, who also has coached a number of Olympic female hurdlers, has no trouble believing Dutch's first-year fortunes. Dutch began hurdling at age 10 after watching his older sister run the hurdles in high school and at North Carolina for two years.

"Johnny is one of the greatest athletes that we've recruited. So is Jason Richardson," said Frye, adding that both athletes are good students. "It's a great thing to have."

Though he has not developed a friendship with Dutch, Richardson concedes the Gamecocks' hurdles tradition is in good hands with his younger rival.

"He's on pace to replicate the things I'm doing," Richardson said, "if not exceed them."

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.