Standing 6-feet-4, Bradwell Institute’s Jamael Smith was a natural on the basketball court during his junior and senior years in high school.
But the hardwood player surprised his family and coaches Tuesday after signing a letter of intent to run cross country and track for Chattahoochee Technical College in North Georgia.
“This is my first year running track and I never ran cross country but coach (Brian) Williams kept asking me to give it a try,” Smith said.
The sport came naturally to him.
“When he first came out I knew he would be able to help us out, but I did not know he would be as good as he was,” Williams said. “It doesn’t happen often where you get a kid who comes out for the first time and starts putting up quick times. I mean, a kid who never ran track before and here he is getting a track scholarship.”
Williams said cross country runners at the high school level usually race for five kilometers (3.1 miles) during meets and Smith was completing a mile in 4 minutes and 40 seconds.
“And 4:35 is considered elite and his two mile time is 10:30, and a 10 flat is considered elite,” Williams said.
Smith’s speed at the recent Region 3-AAAAA meet earned him a trip to the state finals this weekend in the 1,600 and 3,200 meter run.
According to the results posted on ghsa.net, Smith finished 15th in the 1600 with a time of 4:42.08 during the first day of the meet and came in 14th in the 3,200 with a time of 10:28.41 on day two.
Smith said his mother has always stressed the importance of continuing his education and when Williams kept prodding him to try track and cross country and explained the opportunity it could bring, he spoke with his mom and decided to give it a go.
“I am very surprised because I thought it was going to be basketball,” his mother Tabatha said. “But he came out and did what he was supposed to do. He shocked me and was running well so it was a shock.”
“I think he has an unlimited potential,” BI boys track coach DeAndre Davis said. “He always does what you ask him to do and you can’t ask for a better kid, he is very respectful. He has a lot of heart and when he competes he always looks at his opponent and says to himself, ‘I’m going to beat you.’ He has a little cockiness about him which is good when it comes to track.”
Smith said he plans to study accounting while running for the Golden Eagles. He said good things are still forthcoming.
“It’s a good opportunity for me to improve on my running skills and hopefully when I finish my two years I can go somewhere else,” he said. “Right now my main focus is track.”
“I think this will be a good transition for him. Athletically he fits in well,” Williams said. “With him being new to this and their year round training approach I think he’ll start putting down some nice times that will attract some Division I schools.”
His mother offered him some sound advice.
“Make sure you keep God the first priority, keep your prayer up, stay focused and just reach for the stars,” she said.
“I’m going to miss him but I know he is going to do great,” Smith’s younger sister Kayla said.