KNIGHTDALE — Members of the Knightdale boys track team didn’t stumble after their highly-regarded coach announced his resignation in the middle of their spring 2013 season.
Instead, they harnessed the exit of David “Prince” Castell, who led the team to five state titles over his six-year tenure. The team went on to better a 4x400 relay record that had stood for 26 years on its way to its sixth straight state championship in May.
The Knights are now in their first full season under a new head coach, Chris Miller, who formerly coached football and track at Bunn High School. Indications are that the team of mostly seniors is in position to expand on its dynasty that dates back to 2011.
“(Castell) will forever be missed,” Knights senior Marcell Johnson said. “No one can replace him and no one can be him, but when it comes down to it coach Miller gives us what we need to do what we as runners do on the track.
“We are still putting our pieces together, but we are ahead of where we were last year at this time.”
Johnson joined his brother, Marquavious, and Henry Kiedy and Bernard Freeman in topping Durham Hillside’s 1987 record last spring. The Knightdale team posted a 3:12.87 in the 4x400 in the NCHSAA 4A outdoor championships. It was the fastest time in the country up to that point in 2013.
Corey Aikens now runs the second or third leg in place of Freeman, who graduated last year. Marquavious Johnson, the defending state champion in the 500-meter dash in indoor competition and 400 in outdoor, usually runs the anchor leg.
In the indoor season, where the track is half as long, the times aren’t as fast due to shorter straightaways. Last year’s relay team won the 4x400 indoor state title in 3:22.10, taking the event by nearly 4 seconds. The current 4x400 team posted a time of 3:21.74 at the Durham Striders Invitational on Saturday.
“There’s no magic to it,” Miller said. “Lots of kids have that talent but not the heart to be great, and that’s what separates these kids. They work when no one’s watching. You get talent and hard work combined and they just fly.
“They know what to do and they’ve been nationally coached well. If we just maintain and keep pushing to try and get better every time we train, we’ll be fine.”
Miller is confident in another senior, Kimani Hoffman, who is the defending state champion in the the triple jump in the indoor (46-6.5) and outdoor (46-8) championships and also competes in sprints. Hoffman and Marquavious Johnson were invited to the eighth annual Caribbean Scholastic Invitational in Puerto Rico in June and each returned with a pair of silver medals.
“I think he’s tops in the nation in triple jump and I think he’s up there in the nation in long jump,” Miller said of Hoffman. “And I think he’s probably going to qualify for states in the 55-meter dash and the 300-meter dash.”
Hoffman placed second Saturday in the 55-meter sprint (6.51) and in the triple jump (46-10.5). He was also fifth in the 300 (35.70) and eighth in the long jump (20-6.75).
“You’re talking about four events – that’s a lot,” Miller said. “If people only know how much work goes into what these kids do.”
Kiedy added a first-place finish in the 500-meter dash (1:06.55) on Saturday.
The coach also expects junior Jamie Brown to contribute again this year. Brown took second in last year’s indoor state meet in the high jump at 6 feet, 2 inches.
Miller said it took some time for the established team to mesh with his philosophies, but that the connection he made with the majority of the team during Knightdale’s football season helped ease the transition.
“We’ve been kind of building that relationship since August,” Miller said. “They’ve been a great group to be around. Some of my street credit in coaching top-level athletes might have helped a little bit.”
The Knightdale boys are scheduled to participate in one final event, the David Oliver Classic at the JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem on Jan. 24-25, before the indoor state meet on Feb. 8.
Moody: 919-829-4806; Twitter: @easternwakenews