SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. — Usually when Montae Nicholson turns a head, it's because the Gateway High (Monroeville, Pa.) defensive back has intercepted a pass and everyone is watching him bolt the the other way. Friday in Shippensburg, Pa., though, the competition never had to look anywhere but forward to see him.
Nicholson led a host of Penn State commits or prospects participating in the PIAA Track and Field Championships at Shippensburg University's Seth Grove Stadium, qualifying with ease for the boy's AAA 110-meter hurdle finals by winning his morning heat before qualifying as a member of his team for the 4x100 relay final later in the afternoon.
"This is training. It's a lot of the same thing, but a different type of training," Nicholson said between breaths of the relationship between track and football. "A lot of technique needs to be put into this sport, and not just running, jumping and sprinting like football. Actually, I work on how I go over the hurdles, and if I do it wrong, I have to learn how to fix it.
"Just so I can get as fast as possible," he added.
Gliding with grace over a host of hurdles before exploding with a burst to the finish line, Nicholson clocked the second-fastest time out of four heats and 26 competitors. His mark of 14.35 second — four-tenths of a second faster than his seeding time — was only bested by top overall seed Wellington Zaza of Garnet Valley, who blazed the track in the final heat of the event. His time of 13.79 marked an improvement of nine-tenths of a second over his seeding time, and the two will undoubtedly battle in the final Saturday morning.
When asked why he finds so much success in the hurdles, Nicholson credited his mother.
"When I was younger, I used to sprint, and my mom, who used to be a hurdler — she's a hall of famer at Robert Morris — said why not try hurdling?" he said. "So one year, I did it. I wasn't the best at it, but I was also about five inches shorter. When I was younger I used to sprint, but now I long jump, do 4x100, and every now and then I'll high jump."
He is not competing in the high jump this weekend, but his Saturday will be busy nonetheless. Aside from the track events, the all-around athlete also qualified for the long jump. And while his hill to win that event will undoubtedly be steeper than the rest — he is the sixth seed and sits seven inches off the top-seed — he expects to be successful in everything he does
"Not only just in the hurdles, but the 4x100 as well, and hopefully the long, too," he said. "I hope to come home with a medal around my neck. There is a lot of trust going into the 4x100, but it's not that different for me because of football, because you have to trust the other 10 guys on the field, and it's the same in the 4x100
"I run the third leg, and my coach says that's because my curve is good and my stride is long."
Nicholson added that as soon as the track season comes to a close Saturday, he will again ramp up his focus on recruiting. His gaze widened Thursday when Arizona became the latest program to offer the 6-foot-2, 200-pound FOX Sports NEXT four-star prospect.
• A pair of Class of 2014 verbal commitments competed Friday, but neither will vie for medals Saturday. Mt. Lebanon (Pittsburgh, Pa.) receiver Troy Apke competed with the school's 4x100-meter relay team, but fell shy of qualifying to advance with a preliminary time of 43.61. The same fate bestowed defensive back commit Daquan Worley and Coatesville, who fell shy of qualifying in the same event.
• Like Nicholson, another recruit Penn State is hot on the trail for is Aliquippa (Pa.) athlete Dravon Henry. He, too, will compete Saturday for a medal. The junior ran in the AA 4x100 relay and qualified for the final with a time of 44.25.