Montae Nicholson never competed in the WPIAL track and championships before this year. He claims he was too little to qualify two years ago. Last year, he was too sore from a shoulder injury.
When he finally got his chance, he was too good for everyone else.
Nicholson, a junior at Gateway High School and a heavily recruited football player, made a smashing debut at the WPIAL track championships Thursday night at Baldwin High School. He won the Class AAA 110-meter hurdles and set a WPIAL championship record with a time of 14.39 seconds. He broke the record of 14.43 seconds, set 13 years ago by Brian Mancini of Peters Township.
"This is so big, because, obviously, I had no plans of doing this when the season started," Nicholson said. "I'm just ecstatic."
But maybe not as ecstatic as his mother, Jackie Crawford. She is a former star hurdler at West Mifflin and Sacred Heart high schools, and she is in the Robert Morris University Athletic Hall of Fame. She also is Gateway's hurdles coach.
"Honestly, she may have been happier than me about winning this," Nicholson said.
"She's been riding me and working me ever since seventh grade. Part of me sometimes doesn't like her as coach because she's my mom and she is the hardest on me. But, when I come out here and do this stuff, I understand why and appreciate what she has done for me."
Nicholson went home with two gold medals after running a leg on Gateway's 400 relay team that finished first in 41.89 seconds. Other members of the team were Cameron Gray, Daniel Hill and Jae'Len Means.
Nicholson also finished third in the long jump with a school-record leap of 23 feet, 1 1/2 inches.
He certainly has come a long way since he was a 5-foot-10, 165-pound freshman.
"I was just a little kid who couldn't do anything," Nicholson said.
Now he is 6-2 1/2, 200 pounds and has football scholarship offers from Pitt, Penn State, Ohio State, Florida State, Michigan and Oregon, among others.
Nicholson was the only boy to set a WPIAL championship meet record. But he wasn't the only heavily recruited football player to win an event. Washington junior Shai McKenzie won the Class AA shot put with a throw of 53-1.
McKenzie is a halfback who has scholarship offers from a couple dozen colleges across the country. It's not often you see a football halfback win a shot-put championship.
McKenzie also ran a leg on Washington's 400 relay team that finished first and kept Aliquippa from winning a fourth title in a row. He teamed with Mykhael Kelley, Josh Wise and Darius Spinks to finish at 43.29.
Aliquippa's Dravon Henry injured his hamstring while running the second leg, but Aliquippa still led when Shaquere McBride began the final leg. But Washington's Spinks passed McBride in the final 10 meters.
Spinks also won the long jump with a leap of 22-7 1/2 and ran a leg on Washington's 1,600 relay team that finished first and set a Class AA championship meet record with a time of 3:24.79.
One of the other top storylines was provided by twin brothers Ethan and Colin Martin of Fox Chapel. They have talked about how neat it would be to finish 1-2 at the WPIAL finals -- and it happened. It was twin peaks as Ethan finished first in the Class AAA 1,600 at 4:18.12, inching out Colin, who ran a 4:18.63.
The Martins almost duplicated their 1-2 finish in the 3,200. Ethan finished first in 9:17.20. Kiski Area's Brent Kennedy was second at 9:17.30 and Colin Martin third at 9:19.91.
Gateway senior Julius Rivera won the 100 in 10.98 seconds. It added to Rivera's surprising story. He wasn't good enough to qualify for the WPIAL championship meet last year -- and now he's the fastest runner in the WPIAL.
For more on high school sports, go to Varsity Blog at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh. First Published May 17, 2013 4:00 AM