Jonathan Wade Sprinting Into Track History

When Shreveport sprinter and UT football signee Jonathan Wade lands in Knoxville this summer, it's difficult to tell which will be the biggest beneficiary — the Tennessee offense, the Tennessee defense or the Tennessee track team.

For sure, Wade has made a big name for himself in the world of track and field, but there's probably not a handful of football players in the world who could challenge him at 100 yards.

He was a standout cover corner for Evangel Christian Academy, which was ranked No. 7 in the country, and routinely took half of the field out of play with his ability to hawk the ball. He also has the speed to demand double coverage as a wideout and, therefore, could make an early impact on the Vols unsettled receiver rotation.

He will greatly enhance an already outstanding UT sprint squad that paced the Vols to a national title last year and a No. 1 ranking among the nation's college track and field teams this season. He figures to be a prolific point maker at 60 meters, 100 meters, the relays, and he might be virtually unbeatable at 200 meters.

"He's a great, great sprinter and the 100 is not really his best race," said UCA's head track coach Dave Wilkins. "His best race is the 200 and nobody will beat him in that. Nobody will beat that child in the 200. I would stake my life on it. And you can put that in bold print."

Wade recently underscored his coach's claim by beating DaBryan Blanton — one of the nation's top sprinters who recorded last year's best high school time of 10.30 in the 100 meters — in a 200-meter duel at the Scheiner Relays . Wade turned a personal best time of 20.89 to defeat the Forney, Texas, dynamo. It also avenged a loss earlier in the day when Wade was edged out by Blanton in 100 meters.

"The last three weeks Jonathan has run his best two times ever," said Wilkins. "He ran a 10.29 fully automatic time in the 100 meters in the Scheiner Relays. He ran against DaBryan Blanton and he lost to him. Blanton ran a 10.26 and Jonathan finished second even though he actually improved his best time. Jonathan ran a 20.89 and beat him in the 200."

Prior to that in the Texas Relays, Wade, who turned 18 earlier this month, took on the state's all-time sprint champion and again lost by three one-hundredths of a second.

"He's very young, he just turned 18 when we got back from Texas Relays," said Wilkins. "He finished second in the 100 to Brendan Christian of Texas, who is the probably the state's all-time sprint champion. Jonathan ran a 10.38 and Brendan ran a 10.35.

"He ran that in 58 degree weather and it was kind of cool. Brendan had just run a 4-by-100 relay so he was warm while Jonathan sat up in the stands for a long time. His juices weren't flowing and he was kind of cold. There were over 120 competitors in the 100 and Jonathan finished second, so he did well. And there will be other days."

Wade's other day came not at 100 meters, but at 60 meters where he not only topped Christian, but also broke Leonard Scott's indoor record in Louisiana of 6.26 with a 6.24 in the LSU Classic

"Jonathan set a new state indoor record in the 60-meter that was held by a kid that's at the University of Tennessee right now, Leonard Scott," said Wilkins. "He broke that record and beat the kid from Texas who has been their all-time sprint champion.

"Jonathan has had a great season. I was just reading an article today by one of the best sportswriters (Jerry Byrd) to ever come out of Shreveport. He wrote about Jonathan, giving his vote for Jonathan as the best sprinter to ever come out of Louisiana."

Wade's case as the greatest sprinter in a state long noted for producing great sprinters is strengthened by his consistency, as well as the competition he has faced, and the fact, all of his times have been measured by FAT (Fully Automatic Timing) instead of by the less reliable hand-held means. In the world of speed merchants, FAT is where it's at.

"The good thing about Jonathan is that his summer coach, who is a USA Track and Field coach, has taken him to a lot of competition across the country," said Wilkins. "He has had national experience and international experience. Nobody has run against as much competition as Jonathan. He's lost a few but his consistency is so good. He's running between 10.29 and 10.38 consistently at FAT in the 100 meters. What happens in Fully Automatic Timing is that there is no room for human error involved. They use that at the highest level. Some of these kids you hear about running these times have never been timed by Fully Automatic Timing."

Wade, 5-11, 170, was the only teenager in the nation invited to compete in Italy's prestigious Grand Prix track meet in September and he won the world title in the 200 meters in the 18-and-under age category last summer in Hungary. The key to his success in the 200 may also be the reason why his speed translates well to the football field.

"He has a stride in the 200 meters that you can see in slow motion where he's slightly bowlegged," Wilkins explained. "On the turns he makes up six inches on every stride. He has a natural running style that fits that turn and he often runs the second hundred meters faster than the first."

Wade will take aim at Louisiana's 100-meter record in the upcoming state meet and is working his upper body in hopes of gaining a little more strength for an added edge.

"We're going to let him work on his upper body strength," said Wilkins. "He might have lost a little of that he had for football. We're going to let him do that and he should be razor sharp. We're going to get him back in the weight room and get him ready to roll.

"I think he'll break another 100 record in the state. He's the deal and he's durable mentally and physically. He's run some big meets."

Wilkins knows his way around the gridiron as well as the oval. He played football at Louisiana Tech with such NFL notables as Terry Bradshaw, Roger Carr and Pat Tilley and later in the old WFL with former Vol great Richmond Flowers, who, coincidentally, started UT's legacy of sprinters playing football.

He believes Wade could become a force in college at either corner or receiver.

"I understand they're going to look at him at wide receiver," said Wilkins of UT's coaching staff. "From what I heard they're going to give him every opportunity at wide receiver. It's hard to walk away from that speed. I think he's got enough skills to play either cover corner or wide receiver. When you've got that kind of speed it makes up for a lot of mistakes.

"One thing good about Jonathan is that he played corner for us, but all our wide receivers got Division I scholarships. I think we finished No. 7 in the nation last year and we played top flight competition. He's got quick feet and he's got good hip rotation, and if he got beat, he'd get right back into coverage."

Since Wade didn't play receiver in high school one of his biggest adjustments will come in catching the ball. However he's a student of the game who is advanced in his knowledge of coverages.

"I'm going to tell you, he'll have to work on his hands a little bit," said Wilkins. "I think they're average for a possession receiver, but for a kid that fast he's got above average hands.

"Jonathan will respond to competition. Our high school program has great coaches that teach great fundamentals. Jonathan can read coverages as well as most quarterbacks coming out of high school. He was a great asset that way."

Anyway you figure it, Wade will be a great asset for Tennessee.

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