Athlete of the Week: Central’s Clanton delivering on athletic potential on track this spring

Kyle Clanton Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Central High School track and field coach Rick Lytton got a glimpse into the future a couple years ago when he watched Kyle Clanton take part in meets as a member of Peter Muhlenberg Middle School’s track team.

What Lytton saw then was a young hurdler whom the head coach described earlier this week as being “way faster than anybody that he ran against.” Since joining Central’s varsity squad last season, Clanton has shifted his focus to the sprints and jumps, events that allow him to showcase his speed.

The sheer athleticism Clanton, now a sophomore, has displayed over the last two seasons left Lytton raving about his potential on Tuesday.

“He has as much natural talent as any athlete that has come through this school in a long time,” Lytton said.

Clanton, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Athlete of the Week for May 1-7, used that natural talent to win five individual events and help the Falcons’ 4×400 relay team to a pair of victories in two meets last week.

Clanton’s week began with the annual Shenandoah County track and field meet on May 3, during which he won the boys’ long jump, 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash before running the third leg of the winning 4×400 relay team. His adjusted time of 10.94 seconds – he was hand-timed at 10.68 – in the 100 was a new county meet record and a personal best.

Two days later, the sophomore again streaked to victories in the 100 and 200 at the 11-team Stonewall Jackson Invitational, while running his best Fully Automatic Timing (FAT) mark of 11.05 seconds in the 100, and contributed to the winning 4×400 relay team.

Clanton’s speed, he said, is a natural gift, and running track seemed like the perfect chance to showcase his talents when he picked up the sport in middle school. But the sophomore, who also plays football, has put in the effort to build on his natural athleticism as well through his offseason preparation.

“The weight room, that’s been the biggest part,” Clanton said. “I was in the weight room last semester and then after school. Sometimes in the morning I go out and weight lift too. But that was the biggest thing in the winter since I don’t play any other sports.”

And there’s also the friendly competition Clanton has with Central junior Coy Jimenez, which manifests itself in nearly every practice and in each meet the Falcons take part in during the track season.

Clanton edged out Jimenez – who placed fourth in the 100 in last season’s Virginia High School League Group 2A state championships – by 0.35 and 0.49 seconds in the 100 and 200, respectively at the county meet and again by 0.02 and 0.21 seconds in those same events at the Stonewall Jackson Invitational. Jimenez returned the favor by beating Clanton in both events at the Bull Run District championships on Wednesday evening.

“It’s a rivalry, all right,” said Clanton, who owns the coverage area’s top times in the 100 and 200 this spring. “Knowing at the beginning he was beating me and then, I don’t know, I guess I kind of got a little angry always coming in second. … I don’t know, it’s been a different year. I didn’t think it’d be this fast.”

Clanton’s determination to beat his teammate falls into what he said was his biggest takeaway from his freshman season last year, during which he placed 11th in the state in the long jump and helped power Central’s 4×400 relay team to a state championship performance in Radford.

“(I learned) that there’s always someone better than you, and to be the best you’ve gotta beat them,” Clanton said. “Last year at states was a big thing as a freshman. There was hardly anybody (there) as a freshman. And then winning, I wanted to be better this year and go to more events. Now I’m first in the 200 and the 100, so it’s been quite a year.”

Lytton said where Clanton was “hesitant at times” to try things last season, he’s been able to focus more on the intricacies of his events as a sophomore now that he has more experience.

“In middle school he was just so much faster than everybody else that he could just outjump them without any form or anything. Now he has to work on his form,” Lytton said. “And he is very aware now of the speed that he has and the reserve that he has. In a race when he needs to hit that next gear he can do it easily.”

Clanton said his ultimate goal this season is to win state titles in the 100 and 200 and help the Falcons repeat in the 4×400 relay (Clanton, Jimenez and Carston Shockey returned from last year’s group and are joined this spring by Saxon Franklin).

He’s also got his sights set on the future and is riding a wave of confidence after earning first-team all-state recognition in football this past season as a kick returner and second-team honors as a wide receiver and punt returner.

“Yeah, I probably think so,” Clanton responded when asked if his football accolades have impacted his confidence during the track season, “knowing that I’m all-state and a state champion last year for track. I’d like to repeat that and knowing that college is coming, junior year is college recruiting and all that’s coming, I’m trying to step it up right now so I just get better and better.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com