This article appears in the April 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
There's overwhelming, and then there's what Dorsey senior two-sport star David Gettis experienced when he went on a recruiting visit to Baylor University in January.
Gettis, a 6-foot-3, 198-pound wide receiver who is rated the nation's No. 99 football recruit in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com, was being led around campus by Baylor receivers coach and former NFL star Harold Jackson, who made five Pro Bowl appearances during a 16-year NFL career with five teams, including the Los Angeles Rams.
But the recruiting trip to Waco, Texas, wasn't just for football. Gettis, who is the two-time defending 400-meter track state champ and ran the nation's top returning high school time in the 400 (46.39) last year, was also there to visit the Bears' track team, whose legendary 400-meter program has earned Baylor the nickname "Quarter-Mile U."
The Bears have produced two of the all-time greatest 400-meter runners in U.S. history in Olympic gold medalists Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner. In addition, current Baylor senior Darold Williamson, who earned collegiate All-American honors in the 400 last year, ran on the gold-medal-winning 4x400 relay team with Wariner at last summer's Olympics.
While spending the day with a former NFL All-Pro like Jackson was certainly impressive, Gettis turned into a little kid when Jackson took him to meet Wariner and Williamson.
"I had to calm myself down," says Gettis, a SchoolSports All-American in track. "That was one moment that I actually felt slow in a room. During the Olympics, you couldn't pull me away from the TV when Jeremy was running. He just told me to keep working and that the work you put in will help you in the long run. I was awestruck."
So although many football recruiting experts were shocked when Gettis decided to sign with Baylor to play on the gridiron, he considered it a no-brainer. He saw it as an opportunity to learn from an experienced football staff as well as run for one of the top track programs in the country.
"Going to Baylor is not only going to help my football career, but I feel like the track coaches will help me reach my goal of getting to the Olympics," says Gettis, who caught 30 passes for 599 yards and nine touchdowns this past fall and was chosen to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January.
The fact that Gettis will even run at Baylor is a 180-degree turn from how he felt about track as a sophomore at Dorsey. He had just finished his season on the freshman-sophomore football team and was content with either shooting hoops or playing pickup football to bide his time during the offseason.
Dorsey head track coach Ralph Tilley and sprint coaches James Robertson and Stan Johnson had a different idea. They had witnessed Gettis' speed on the football field and knew the potential was there for him to be a superstar on the track. For Gettis, who had never run track in his life, putting on anything but football cleats was about as interesting as first-period calculus.
Despite his initial disinterest in the sport, Robertson and Johnson put on the full-court press every day, telling Gettis that track would take him to the next level on the football field.
"They kept at me," says Gettis. "Obviously they saw something that I hadn't seen yet. They made an effort to get me on the track and show my true talents."
Gettis finally relented one day when he was shooting hoops and the coaches asked him to go through some workouts with the track team. Though Gettis was only wearing tennis shoes, what he did during his runs nearly knocked the coaches out of theirs.
"We had already planned to run him in the 400-meter dash," says Robertson, who has coached sprinters for 28 years for Westchester, Fremont and Dorsey, as well as for the L.A. Jets Track Club. "But we were doing some base work with our team, so the first workout we had him run was the 800. He ended up running a 2:07. That is not normal. Right after that workout, I knew he was going to be special."
While his skills were raw, there were no first-year growing pains for Gettis. In his first major race, he finished third in the 400 at the ultra-competitive City Section Championship with a time of 47.99, which broke the sophomore school record of 48.07 held by former Indianapolis Colts running back Lamont Warren.
You'd think Gettis would have been elated at finishing third and qualifying for the state meet as an unproven sophomore. Instead, he was disappointed with his performance.
"I was mad," he says. "So I decided I was going to bring my ‘A' game to the state meet."
And did he ever. Gettis shocked the 2003 state meet crowd at Cerritos College by running a first-place 400-meter time of 47.41 to upset University City's Da'Sean Cunningham, who now runs for USC.
"David was rated ninth overall going into the state meet," says Tilley, who is in his 18th year as Dorsey's head track coach. "I never thought he could beat Da'Sean Cunningham. But after David beat him in the trials, I knew he had a chance. People said that was one of the biggest shocks of all time."
Then last spring, Gettis proved he wasn't a one-year wonder by finishing first in the 400 at both the City Section meet and the state meet.
His winning time of 46.39 at City Section broke the school record of 46.63 held since 1989 by Beno Bryant, who is now the freshman-sophomore football coach at Dorsey. Meanwhile, Gettis' first-place mark of 46.69 at the state meet was the fastest time run at the event since 1996. As a result, he was named Boys' Track Athlete of the Year by the Los Angeles Times last spring.
This year, Gettis has a shot to become California's first-ever boys' three-time state champ in the 400. Yet he still considers himself a football player first and a sprinter second.
Nevertheless, coach Robertson thinks that could change once Gettis gets to Baylor.
"I don't think he really understands how great he can be," says Robertson. "I don't think he knows yet the value of track and field and how lucrative it can be. I think that after a year on the track at Baylor, he's going to realize real quickly what's going on. The tools he has to work with are incredible. I think he can be one of the greatest ever."