The Future: Walter Dix
It seems a funny comparison, but in at least one way, Coral Springs High senior sprinter Walter Dix is a lot like a young Don King. Like a slender, much swifter version of the famed boxing promoter, Dix actually publicizes the amateur boxing bouts in which he is both a spectator and a combatant.
Flyers are passed out to any teens that Dix and his buddies come across, and crowds of 40 or more assemble to watch the action staged at various locations. The matches aren't sanctioned by any governing body, but they're totally on the up-and-up. Gloves are worn and the emphasis is on crisp and honorable self-defense. Much like you might see at a local YMCA.
Kids could certainly be up to a lot worse on a Friday night.
"We don't let anything get too far," stresses Dix, who turned 18 on Jan. 31.
It's not terribly surprising that boys will be boys. What's puzzling is Dix's willingness to put his fitness in jeopardy — no matter how microscopic the risk — when he's one of the nation's most brilliant 100- and 200-meter dash talents and a nationally ranked long jumper.
But one word makes it all clear. It's not about fitness. It's about toughness. Without it, Dix figures he might as well sweep the track instead of flying across it.
"I just unleash on the track, and the reason I can do that is probably where I'm from," says Dix, who won Class 4A state titles in the 100 (10.46) and 200 (21.04) last spring, in addition to finishing second in the state in the long jump (24 feet, 0.75 inches). "This is a tough neighborhood. I've seen stuff here that you can't talk about delicately. I learned that early on. This place is the reason I'm like that on the track."
Dix doesn't seem like he's from the place he describes. And Coral Springs head coach Brantley Barr echoes that sentiment.
"He's polite, humble and despite all that's going on around him, he keeps everything in perspective," says Barr, 42, now in his third year as the Colts' boys' track coach. "He does the job in the classroom, and on the track he's all business."
For Dix, lining up in the starting blocks is a lot like squaring off in the boxing ring. The object is to beat your opponents to the punch and prevent them from mounting any meaningful offense of their own. Stick with the metaphor and it's not a reach to say Dix is piling up track knockouts.
He began this spring at the Florida Relays in March by winning the 100 in a personal-best 10.28 seconds, which was the nation's fastest scholastic outdoor time this year as of April 12. Less than a week later, his first-place time of 20.79 in the 200 at the Broward County Athletic Association Championships was also the fastest outdoor time in the nation to that point and would have broken the previous state record of 20.95 if run at last year's state meet. Dix also won the long jump at both events, with his leap of 24 feet, 3.25 inches at the Florida Relays ranking No. 2 in the country as of mid-April.
Last year, Dix's best times of 10.41 in the 100 and 21.04 in the 200 both ranked among the nation's top 10 high school times for the 2003 outdoor season, while his best leap of 24-0.75 in the long jump ranked in the top 20.
And he's not one of those guys who survive simply on a great start or raw speed. Dix, who spends his summers racing with the Boynton Beach Track Club, is a complete sprinter.
"He's really strong in all phases," says Barr, who is also head coach of the Coral Springs girls' cross country team. "He's excellent in the blocks, so he's already ahead 15 or 20 meters in. His drive phase (right after he comes out of the blocks) is so good because he stays low and can hold it until his top end-of-the-race speed kicks in. Even with all that, to see how strong he is over the last 50 is amazing. At times, I've seen him challenged at 150, but then he finds that extra gear."
It's worth mentioning that as a cornerback for the Colts' football team, Dix was named a Miami Herald All-Broward 6A-4A honorable mention selection this past fall. Although undecided on a college at press time (he's primarily looking at schools in the SEC), Dix insists he intends to play at least two seasons of collegiate football before he'll consider concentrating solely on track. And only if his track times enter world-class range.
Talk about toughness. Of course, even tough guys feel pressure.
"It wears on you to know that every time out you could lose [your standing]," admits Dix, who finished third in the 100 (10.84) and fourth in the 200 (21.85) as a sophomore at the 2002 Class 4A state meet. "I'm always thinking about what everybody else is doing to try to come after me. It motivates me, but it's like carrying a weight on my back."
Burdened as he may be, Dix's future exclusively as a track athlete may be closer than he's allowing himself to admit. As of press time, his personal-best time in the 100 was just 0.03 seconds off the "B" qualifying standard of 10.25 for July's U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Sacramento, Calif. Athletes who attain the "A" standard (10.07) are automatically included in Olympic Trials preliminary heats, while those who attain the "B" standard will be included if additional competitors are needed to fill the field size. In the 200, Dix needed only to shave 0.14 seconds off his personal-best time to meet the "B" standard of 20.65.
"I think a lot of people want me to take my talent to the Olympics someday, but my times have gotta drop to where I want," says Dix, who lists his brothers Alex, 24, and William, 19, as inspirations and whose father, Washington, was the longtime track coach at South Broward High. "My ultimate goal in track is to get to the point where I can get the most out of it. I'd like to get my own shoe (endorsement), you know? I don't know if I could ever do that with football."
Whether he winds up running in a shoe named after him or not, Walter Dix seems well-positioned to keep knocking out the competition thanks to his brains, technique and toughness. But just as important is that he's always ready when the bell rings.
"You never see the killer instinct on the outside," says Barr, who notes that Dix has made or scheduled official visits to Texas, LSU and Arkansas. "He's not one of these guys that wears his emotions on his sleeve. But when he carries himself a certain way, you know you can rely on him to perform."