But as the two get ready to race on the 4x100-meter relay squad that Ohio State will enter in the Big Ten outdoor championships, being held today through Sunday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium on the OSU campus, they are not at 100 percent on the track.
The months spent each year on football are the reason. Just as recently as late April, the pair was donning pads and playing in the spring game, not working on sprinting form and baton transfers.
"I definitely don't feel like I'm in track shape," said Thomas, who is also listed as an entrant in the 100-meter dash even though he has not raced the event this year. "I keep hearing the same thing. Before (my coach) can even say (where I need to improve), I'm like, ‘I already know.' It's kind of aggravating."
"I'm nowhere near where I want to be," Chekwa added.
So why do it? First of all, the two ran track in high school, with "Flash" Thomas winning Maryland state titles in the 55 and 100 meters and Chekwa qualifying for the Florida state meet in the 100. And the well of competitive drive doesn't run dry once the weather warms, either.
"We've been running track since we were little boys. It's fun," Chekwa said. "I think if I could play basketball, I would play basketball, too. I love to compete."
And the two have already made a difference when it comes to the Buckeye track team. Joined by James Manley and Stephen Robinson, the pair from the gridiron helped the Buckeyes cross the line in first place at the Jesse Owens Classic in early May. The time of 40.51 seconds was the relay's best of the season, qualified the group for NCAA regionals and earned it the second seed at the Big Ten meet.
"It feels good to come out here and help the team," said Chekwa, a junior cornerback. "I think we came out here and we were able to do that. It's exciting to be able to do that."
Chekwa's time on the indoor team earlier this year – a veteran of past seasons, he ran the squad's fastest time of the winter season in the 60 meters and placed fifth in the Big Ten meet at the event – helped bring Thomas to the team this time around.
"In the indoor (season), I see Chim running track and I'm like, ‘I feel I should be in track right now," the freshman wideout said. "Then the outdoor comes around and I'm like, ‘I really need to be running track right now.' "
The transition has been up and down. Thomas was placed into the third leg of the relay, a spot in which he's never run. Holding onto the baton during the fast-paced transfers took a few runs to get used to. Slowly, the chemistry needed for a top relay team to excel started to build.
"I dropped the baton a couple of times, and that's never good going into a meet," Thomas said. "I haven't dropped the baton since last week, so that's a good sign. I got to know the guys a little bit more and just hang out with them."
The pair's top competition should come from No. 1 seed Michigan, which boasts an All-America standout on its relay in Adam Harris and a football player in cornerback Troy Woolfolk. The Wolverines enter with a seed time of 40.40. Iowa, with a seed time of 40.58 and one football player in wideout Paul Chaney, is also formidable. The championship race is set for around 1 p.m. Sunday.
A Big Ten championship is the goal for players conditioned to expect no less.
"That would be real nice," Thomas said. "The football Big Ten championship is good, and then to have a track Big Ten title, that would be even better. I would just feel like an all-around Big Ten champion."
Buckeyes Use Relays For Life
The 4x100 relay is not the only one expected to do well for the hosting squad. All four relays, two in each gender, are seeded among the top three in each event.
In other words, the Buckeyes know how to make a good relay squad.
"You know what, to have a good relay team you have to have four good people who want it," women's 4x100 anchor Letecia Wright said. "Not only is the talent important, but you have to have four people who really want it and four people who work well together."
"It's chemistry," said men's 4x400 racer Matt Comer. "Everyone has a job to do. The first leg's responsibility is to keep the other three guys in the hunt. The first guy can't get you behind. The second guy has to push for the lead. The third guy has to get the lead, if you're not already in it, and the fourth guy has to hold on. That's the way we run our relays. Every guy who's on each leg knows what their responsibility is and has a duty to carry out that responsibility."
The men's 4x400 squad, seeded second, is attempting to defend its indoor Big Ten crown. The quartet of Comer, Robinson, Brandon Woodard and Thomas Murdaugh won that meet and then the Buckeyes captured the Jesse Owens Classic race two weeks ago. OSU carries a seed time of 3:07.65, less than a second behind Illinois.
"It's really important to us," Comer said. "We talk about creating a dynasty with the 4x400. We always want to win it."
On the women's side, the Buckeyes enter coming off of a 4x100 win at the Jesse Owens meet. Ohio State's group of Wright, Ayrizanna Favours, Bever-Leigh Holloway and Latoya Sanderson is seeded third at 45.87 seconds, just two-tenths back of top entrant Illinois.
The Buckeyes won last year's outdoor Big Ten event.
"We're definitely coming to top it," Wright said.
The women's 4x400 relay boasts the top seed after running the second-fastest time in school history (3:35.98) at the Jesse Owens. OSU should enter the foursome of Favours, Sanderson, Ashley Caldwell and Shaniqua McGinnis.
With possible victors in all relay events, the Buckeyes seem to have figured out the secret to success in the team events in what is generally thought of as an individual sport.
To Comer, the bonds of chemistry start being built away from the track.
"Us four guys, we spend a lot of time together off the track," he said. "We're like brothers and we know what's expected of each other."
And once the racers are in the starting blocks, the hope is that all the work pays off with a rolling tide that pushes each member to a new level.
"That's the great thing right there," Wright said. "When my three other members are running fast and they're doing good, I get that motivation to say I want to finish it out."