The stadium lights turned off, the bleachers cleared, and the field would remain there vacated; it was the end of another Liverpool Warriors football season. However for eighth grader Zavon Watkins his season was just beginning.
“I began doing it [track] to become faster for football,” said Watkins. While that was the original goal it soon would change after a couple of meets as not only coaches were noticing this up and coming talent but spectators were too. “When I started winning a lot of races people began telling me that the times that I was running were really good times,” said Watkins. Good times indeed, especially for an eighth grader.
However, after a terrific first season Watkins was now faced with a new hurdle: high school. Bringing along with it new competition and competition at a harder level. Luckily for Watkins he would have the help and support from his new teammates, especially from three of them: Alex Wilke, Chris Clemons, and Collin Savage.
Together, all four would form not only a special bond together on and off the track, but they would create a legacy that would be known forever. “Well it was only three of them at first and I knew when they were sophomores that we had something going but we not only needed a fourth nut, but we needed a good one,” Said Head Coach Justin Block. “Zavon happened to be a great one.”
FAB FOUR: First Season
Meeting Watkins for the first time Wilke, Clemons and Savage knew that he was going to be talented and that with him all four were going to do something great. “When I saw him [Watkins] for the first time I thought he was something special and knew that he was going to be a superstar, even though he didn’t know it yet,” said Clemons.
However their first race together they would finish with a time of 9:44.81 and finish in ninth at the Section 3 Jack Morse Relays at Manley Field House. It was a time that was very disappointing for them as their expectations were a lot higher. Five days later they would have a chance to redeem themselves at the Southern Tier event at Barton Hall. Not only would they win the race but they improved on their previous time by one minute and 20 seconds (8:20.10).
After a couple more events passed they would be faced with their first true test: Sectionals. With everything on the line this new group came through coming in first place and setting a new personal best of 8:13.04. “Well at that point of the season we would have been disappointed if we lost Sectionals,” said Savage. “We had our sights set on winning states.” Next up was the CNYCL where they would win again however a bit slower, at a time of 8:25.95. After winning the CNYCL they would qualify at the Section 3 State Qualifiers with a first place time of 8:07.91.
That time of 8:07.91 and the first place victory meant that the fab four were going to States but, most importantly, they were headed for their dream. Unfortunately, they would fall short placing fifth with a time of 8:14.38. Despite not winning the State Championship, their time of 8:14.38 was still good enough to earn them a spot at the Nike Indoor Nationals. With a chance at redemption the fab four had the chance to bring in the National Title. However they would finish 15th with a time of 8:08.70 a time that was their second best time together.
Luckily, they still had another season to come: Outdoor Track. The success that we had was pretty unexpected,” said Wilke. “But we had some goals; to break 8 minutes, win a State Championship and maybe take a run at the school record of 7:52.”
Coming out in their first race together for the outdoor season they would have some rust, finishing in ninth place with a time of 9:29.59. After taking about three weeks off with just strictly training they would take the track again at the 56th Annual New Hartford Invitational. Not only would they redeem themselves with a first place victory but they would get a new personal best time of 7:57.66.
Six days later at the 42nd Glenn D. Loucks Games they would not only beat their own personal record again but they would set a state record with a time of 7:46.50. “It was one of the happiest moments of my life because the week before we ran a 7:57.66 and we thought that was a really good time,” said Wilke. But when Zavon handed the baton off to me with the time showing 1:56, I knew it was going to be a good race.”
This was the perfect way to go into Sectionals as they weren’t just winning these races but dominating them. Sure enough, just like they did during the Indoor season they would take Sectionals and would move onto the state qualifiers. However unlike their indoor season where they went straight from the sectional championships to the state qualifiers they would race in the Reebok Grand Prix.
“That was our first “big” meet invite, so I wouldn’t have missed that for anything,” said Coach Block. “It was a great experience to be in the same meet as all the pros and we needed a tune up for States. It worked out perfect; we won, then came back and won states and broke the Section 3 record.” Regardless of the state qualifiers right around the corner, the fab four would take the track at the Reebok Grand Prix and they would take it with 110 percent. They would take first place and take it with a time of 7:45.91; a new personal best.
Coming off of a great performance at the Reebok Grand Prix they would finish with a time of 8:04.73 and a first place spot at the State Qualifiers. Now back at the same spot where they lost during the indoor season, this time they wanted the outcome to be different.
They would get what they wanted and that was a State Championship, however they would get more then that a State record with their finishing time of 7:44.46. “All we did was use the loss to our advantage,” said Clemons. “We all pushed each other and then just killed it.”
Next up for them was Nationals, but unfortunately, due to a state math exam that Watkins had to take, the fab four would have to withdraw from the National competition ending their season in an unlikely fashion. “I’m not going to lie I didn’t really care because at that time I still wasn’t really into track,” said Watkins. As for the rest of the team they still felt optimistic as well. “Well I knew that we could’ve been a top three competitor no doubt,” said Clemons. “But looking back at the times after, I know that we could’ve won.”
FAB FOUR: Redeem Season
After a disappointing end to their season, the fab four were ready to come out with only one goal in mind: a National Title. “We had one goal and one goal only,” said Clemons. “Get that National Title.” In their first race they would place first at the Section 3 CNYITA Relays with a time of 8:43.21 starting their winning streak.
They would go on to win the next four races putting them on a five game winning streak heading into the Section 3 playoffs looking nearly unbeatable. Also during that five game winning streak they would run a time of 7:47.32 which would end up being the fastest time in the United States for any 4x800 relay team.
Once again they would win Sectionals qualifying them for States. Just like last year they found themselves once again at Barton Hall and one race away from being State Champions. “We were putting in speed work during the whole season,” said Wilke. “But it was very frustrating for me because I was injured for the whole season and I was never able to run as well as I wanted to. But we just needed to have a decent race to win States and we did it…barely.”
Even though they redeemed themselves in the outdoor season by winning a State title it still didn’t cut it as they were hungry for another one. Just like they wanted they came out strong and won with a time of 7:59.00 crowning them the new State Champions. Next up was Nationals. Last year, finishing 15th with a time of 8:08.70 wasn’t how they planned it.
“Yes, we felt amazing,” said Clemons. “We were on our high horse.” Though this year seemed possible it would still end in disappointment as they finished third with a time of 7:51.89. “It hurt so bad getting that close and then coming up short,” said Clemons.
Fall down get back up; that was their motto and it seemed to work just about every time. So that’s what they would do. Heading into their last track season together they had one thing in mind: a National Championship. “Despite not winning it yet, the goal didn’t change,” said Savage. “We wanted to win a National Title.” Coming out strong with a 7:44.92 time at the 43rd Glenn D. Loucks Games to prepare them for Sectionals was everything they needed to show everyone that they were going to end this last season with a title.
Once again they would win the Section title and see themselves in a familiar place; The State Championship. Faced with decision to compete or go to their Senior Ball, they picked compete. “Not at all was it a tough decision, winning is the best feeling in the world,” said Clemons. “Besides I was already with my best friends.”
However, after deciding not to put the tuxedos on and to go out and dance, they had to get focused as they had a tough task on their hands: Warwick. “Coming into the race Warwick had the top time with a 7:36,” said Wilke. “We had only run a 7:43 so we knew that we had to put it together and pull out a win.”
Clemons would start the race off horribly for the Warriors and the odds of them three-peating looked as if they were fading away. Handing the baton off to Wilke they needed all that they could get however his time wouldn’t be any better. “I knew that we were in a hole,” said Savage. “But I also knew that if I gave the baton to Zavon in a good position then I knew that we could still win it.”
That’s exactly what Savage would do running an impressive time of 1:51. However still trailing with Watkins getting the baton in hand they still felt that they could pull it off. “When I got the baton I was just thinking I’m just going to give it all I got and just see what happens from there,” said Watkins. Well Watkins all was not only good enough for a third straight title but it was also good enough for a record breaking time of 7:38.78.
Last but certainly not least it was time for Nationals. In their last race together they would finish in sixth with a time of 7:39.97. “It was bad I thought,” said Watkins. “I wasn’t happy with what we did.” “It wasn’t the result we wanted,” said Savage. “But it was still a great experience.” “It was sad that we lost,” said Clemons. “We knew it was the end.” “Despite losing the night before to come back out and race again we were satisfied with that, to come back with a strong showing,” said Wilke.
This loss meant the end of a legacy that will always be remembered in Liverpool history. But just like his three teammates Alex Wilke, Chris Clemons, and Collin Savage taught him, fall down, get back up, and that’s what Watkins would do. Racing in the 2011 Milrose games at Madison Square Garden was his first time back at the National Stage without his three teammates by his side. “It was really fun to race there,” said Watkins. “I hope to make it back next year.”
Unfortunately in the second turn on the first lap runner Owen Skeete would trip up Watkins sending Watkins to the back of the race. “I was mad about what happened,” said Watkins. “But I just held my head up high and worked that much harder.”
Putting that behind him Watkins would get back to the State level in both the 800 and the 1000 meter runs. “I was scared because I had no one there to push me,” said Watkins. “And no one that I could depend on.” However, Watkins would lose by tenths of a second to Marcellus runner Jesse Garn in the 1000 meter run (Garn-2:29.28, Watkins-2:29.54). Despite losing to Garn in the 1000 meter run Watkins would be crowned the New York State Champion for the 800 meter run.
Next up was Nationals. Before the race critics were saying that Watkins wasn’t going to win and that he was beatable as he lost in the 1000 meter the week before to Garn. “Hearing all of the negativity and losing in the 1000 meter run the week before yes that pushed me to work extra hard for Nationals,” said Watkins.
Silencing the critics on his last lap Watkins would take a huge lead crossing the finish line with two thumbs up and a smile. “I just stayed with the group and once I saw my move I made it,” said Watkins. “Everyone looked dead and I just turned it up.” He was the National Champion and the pose showed just how happy he was. “I did that (talking about the pose) because I wanted to show people that it’s [running] fun,” said Watkins. “I didn’t really plan it but I practiced some things that I would do if I won, but that wasn’t one of them.”
Finishing with a time of 1:50.84 Watkins wasn’t heading off to Disney World to celebrate, he was heading back home to Liverpool to prepare for his first outdoor season of track, alone. “It was great running with those guys they got me to race against harder competition and made me work hard to race with them,” said Watkins. “But most of all they gave me a chance to win.”