STARKVILLE — To say Dalton Dempsey had options would be an understatement.
The Starkville Academy senior was a standout running back on the football team, a key forward on the boys soccer team, and is one of the best track and field runners in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools. He could have used any of those skills to earn a college scholarship.
On Thursday, Dempsey finalized his decision to pick track and field when he signed to run for Mississippi College. Starkville Academy track and field coach Sam Wright and others at the school believe Dempsey is the school’s first Division II track and field signee.
Dempsey is convinced he can succeed at the next level. He said Mississippi College’s biology and pre-dentistry programs played a big role in his selecting the school and influenced his decision to go with track and field.
“I had offers for all three sports, but I thought track would be my best opportunity to succeed my best and focus on school a lot,” Dempsey said. “I spent a lot of time thinking about it, praying about it, talking about it, and I thought this was the best opportunity.”
Dempsey said he has talked to the football coaches at Mississippi College and might join that team, but he doesn’t plan on it at the moment.
Dempsey proved to Wright once again last weekend he won’t need football to succeed as a college athlete. Dempsey pulled off the so-called triple, winning the 100, 200, and 400 meters and running the anchor leg in the victorious 4×200 relay team.
“The triple he did last weekend speaks volumes to what he is going to do for Mississippi College. I expect great things out of him,” Wright said. “He comes on Sundays and makes his practice better for the week, and a lot of track people don’t do that. What a lot of people don’t realize is you have to put your body on the line each and every day, and you have to hurt where you’ve never hurt before in your life.”
Dempsey will look to improve on his third-place finish in the 400 at last year’s MAIS Class AAA meet. His obsession with the 400 is only beginning. He said he will do whatever event Mississippi College track and field coach Butch Ard needs him to do, but he calls the 400 “my best event” and expects to run it for the Choctaws.
The 400 has been a pet project of Dempsey’s for years, just as it was for one of his mentors, David Butler.
Butler, a former track coach, retired in 2009, but he still helps the program in his free time. Being a former 400 runner, Butler and Dempsey have had several conversations about how to run the 400 before arriving at Dempsey’s current strategy: run all out for the first 100 then, as Butler put it, “float” until an all-out push in the final 150 meters.
That experience has given Dempsey a level of self-awareness in his training Wright thinks has Dempsey ahead of the game as he prepares to go to Mississippi College.
“He understands for his times in the 400, he has to overtrain: 600s, 500s, 700s, to get his body ready for that 400,” Wright said. “It’s so different from what we grew up on going to school. It says a lot about what he can do.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson