Tate: Great Sprinter, Even Greater Person

Starkville (MS) High School senior track athlete Tavaris Tate is one of the best sprinters in the nation, but he may be an even better person than he is a sprinter. And that says a lot when you consider he's currently the holder of the nation's top 200 (20.89) and 400 (47.06) meter times for juniors.

Currently just 18-years old, Tavaris Tate has achieved a lot during his young life on the track, but he has a long-term goal to help others, primarily kids.

"I want to study Psychology and I hope that I can help mentor kids who are from broken homes," said the very personable youngster. "I have a passion about (helping) kids who grow up without both parents. A lot of people say kids act up because they don't have a father figure in their life. And I really want to understand other kids perspective on life, the kids who only grew up with a mother in their life or just a father in their life."

Tavaris is one of the lucky ones because he has parents, Tiffany and Russell Tate, who have always been there for him and a father who has taken a keen interest in his life, especially when it comes to track.

"I was six-years old and I played t-ball and flag football but my dad understood that I had a gift of speed," said the 5-7, 160-pounder. "My dad told me that we should go to the track and see how I would perform on the track. There was a club in Starkville, so we started running with the club."

And two more men - one who lived with him and another that he saw on television - influenced his decision to make track a career goal.

"My oldest brother, Jeremy Tate (who is 29 now), ran track in high school," said Tavaris. "He was all-state and won the 100, 200 and 400 (meters). By seeing him run and by seeing how I was coming up, I thought that I could be in the same shoes that he was in.

"And the year of the (1996 Summer) Olympics I saw Michael Johnson run (in the 200 meters and 400 meters) I thought to myself that I could be just like him."

Also influencing him in every race he now runs is his late great-grandmother, Lucy King.

"My great-grandmother, before she passed (away), always said, 'don't get tired out there' or 'you run this race for me'," said Tavaris. "And I still hear that every time before I run. It's like I'm running my race for her every time I touch the track."

While those four people all influenced him, it was a major event in his life that ultimately caused him to truly believe that he could achieve greatness in track.

"At the age of 10 I had a condition - the doctor said there was a hole in my lung," said Tavaris. "But the Lord blessed me and got me through that."

The minister of his church knew something special was in store for Tavaris after he survived such a serious condition. And Tavaris took what she did to heart.

"The minister in my church basically gave me a word and told me that the Lord is going to bless me to do magnificent things in my life," he said. "After that, I started understanding that the Lord has blessed me with a gift, so I have to use it. My dad always tells me the same way He gave it, the same way He can take it. So, I have to put it to use every time I step foot on the track."

And his efforts started paying off in a big way almost immediately after he left the hospital.

"The year I came out of the hospital (when I was 10-years old) I ran in St. Louis in the State Games of America and I won the 400 (meters) against the national record holder," said Tavaris. "I ran a 1.03 in the 400 and I ran a 24.68 in the 200. After that, seeing how the Lord had blessed me coming straight out of the hospital with my lungs and coming out on top I knew I would go far with everything that I wanted to."

And he's gone so far that he's now the holder of the nation's best 200 and 400 meters times in the nation for juniors. But it's taken a tremendous amount of effort from him to achieve those times.

"A week for me is school, train, the gym, come home and and eat - that's it," said Tavaris. "Wednesday night, I go to church. Sunday I go to Church. Weekends, I'm running. Sometimes I don't even watch tv because when I get home it's time to go to bed. Really, I don't have time to watch tv. And if I do have some spare time I may play a game."

During his workout and training, his dad not only provides help and instruction as an assistant track coach, but emotional support as well.

"My dad, who has a military background in the Army, is a really strong person," said Tavaris with admiration in his voice. "And knowing how much pain he endures, the 400 is nothing to me. He was a paratrooper in (Desert) Storm and he got a hip injury on a night jump. The pain that I feel on the track can't compare to the pain he deals with."

Tavaris and his dad have mapped out the next few years of his track career leading up to the 2012 Summer Olympics.

"My dad and I have sat down and mapped (the next four years) out," said Tavaris. "I am coming into college in 2009. 2010 I will run in the World Games. 2011 I will have another year in school. And 2012 will be my senior year. I'm going to try to get college out of the way in three years. I'll do summer school. That way, 2012 will be my training period to get me prepared for the Olympics."

As of now, he's still in the planning stages as to what he hopes to run in the Olympics if he makes the team.

"A lot of coaches tell me that since I'm a longer range sprinter (200, 400) I could run the 100, 200 and the 400," said Tavaris. "And over the years I have built my 200 time up. I have been holding the 400 spot, but knowing that my time is dropping even more in the 200 and in the 400 I'm really considering running the 200 and 400 in the Olympics."

But before the Olympics arrive and he has to decide what he's going to run he has another more immediate decision to make - choosing a college where he will run track.

One college could have a slight advantage in his recruitment simply due to where he lives.

"Growing up in Starkville, I started practicing at Mississippi State on their track," said Tavaris. "So, Mississippi State's eyes have been on me while I've been growing up. They've played a good part of me growing up by just allowing me to come out and use their track."

But over the course of the last two years numerous other colleges jumped into his recruiting picture.

"Last year, after I ran the fastest time in the nation in the 400 and I won the 200 in the state (of Mississippi) and anchored the 4x400 and I got second in the 100 in the state, a lot of schools started writing me," said Tavaris. "But being a junior I knew I had one more year so I had plenty of time to think about that later. I was just soaking it all in and enjoying every letter that came."

Then the calls started coming and he became more serious about the recruiting process.

"Schools started calling me when it was an open period, then, when it was my senior year, I had colleges calling me like Florida, UCLA, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Oregon, Baylor," said Tavaris.

He quickly narrowed his long list down.

"I then narrowed it down to the five schools that I would really like to go to," said Tavaris. "I narrowed it down to LSU, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Mississippi State and Florida. I visited LSU, Texas A&M, South Carolina and Mississippi State. That was only four because I didn't get a chance to visit Florida due to my track schedule getting in the way."

He then narrowed it down to an even smaller number soon after.

"Then I narrowed it down to three schools - Mississippi State, LSU and Texas A&M," said Tavaris.

But one of those three dropped out of the picture on their own.

"Texas A&M called me and told me that they couldn't recruit me anymore because they didn't have enough (scholarship) money to sign me," said Tavaris. "That was kind of depressing because I had never been rejected before. But I told myself the Lord has something better in store for me."

With it now down to two, Tavaris explained what he likes about each school.

LSU - "I have pros and cons with LSU. I don't like how big they are. And LSU is really big. But I like their coach a lot. (Head) Coach (Dennis) Shaver is very down-to-earth with me. He tells you straight-forward what he wants. And that's basically what I get from my dad. When I go to a school for 4 or 5 years I want a coach who I can know as a person instead of just as a coach. By getting to know Coach Shaver on my visit I got to know him as a person."

MSU - "Mississippi State, (Associate head) Coach (Steve) Dudley has been there ever since I was six, so I've known Coach Dudley practically all my life. And I know the entire track team because we are in the same town. I'm like 'I like these guys and I like the coach.' And Mississippi State is at home. I've got a lot on my table as far as why I would go to Mississippi State."

No matter which school winds up signing Tavaris, the one thing you can be confident of is that they will be getting not only a great sprinter but also a great person.

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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