Michael McCleod has found his calling.
After repeatedly being asked for two years to come out for the Columbus High School track and field team, McCleod finally gave in last year and competed for the Falcons.
It wasn’t surprising that McCleod had immediate success, winning a Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State title in the 400 meters.
While that victory served as motivation for the 2016-17 school year at Columbus High, McCleod set out to build on his momentum. A new attitude and training regimen aided his cause in what turned out to be a rousing end to the season.
On May 6, McCleod won the 400 (47.85 seconds) and took third in the 100 at the MHSAA Class 6A meet in Pearl. The results culminated a strong final season in which he recorded eight firsts from the Class 6A, District 2 meet in Tupelo in April through the Class 6A, Region 1 meet in Tupelo and the Class 6A North State meet in Madison.
“I realized last year I could be really good at track and field,” McCleod said. “It was at a meet when I finished first. I thought it was going to be easy this year, but I had to push harder and harder at practice.”
First-place finishes in the 100 (10.65) and 400 (47.82) at the North State meet April 29 secured McCleod’s spots at the Class 6A meet. He didn’t disappoint, either, winning a second-straight 400 title. In 2016, McCleod won the event with a time of 48.90.
Columbus High track and field coach Lawrence Hill said worked hard since the end of the 2016 season to lower all of his times.
“He had an amazing season,” Hill said. “He was committed every day. He ran every day. It just surprised me how much he grew.”
Hill said he routinely would see McCleod working out on his own, or with the help of two “trainers,” his pit bull dogs, King and Diamond. Hill said McCleod would chase the dogs at the Columbus High track facility to work on his speed.
Hill smiled when he related the story, but he said the unusual training device must have worked because McCleod’s times came down from his junior season.
“Maybe I should patent that and get a program started, pit bull workout,” Hill said. “It seemed like they had so much fun. He really bought in this year.”
Hill has seen that potential in McCleod for several years. He said he told McCleod after his junior season he had “a gift” as a track and field athlete and that he needed to apply himself. He said something finally clicked with McCleod and helped him realize it was his time to focus. As a result, Hill said McCleod came to him after football season and said he was ready to go.
“He was running in January and February before track season,” Hill said. “I saw his demeanor change. After his demeanor changed, he was more of a leader. Sometimes I had to get him back on track, but, for the most part, he was a leader. He took that without me even coming to him. All of the kids voted him to be captain.”
Hill said it was the first time he had an individual captain for the team.
McCleod also was a key member of the Columbus High football team. He had 23 catches for 678 yards (29.5-yard average) and eight touchdowns.
McCleod plans to graduate in December and go to Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale to pursue a track and field career.
Hill said McCleod “sold the program” to kids who had never run track. He said the commitment and the leadership he saw from McCleod this past season makes him believe McCleod is prepared to take advantage of the opportunity he has at Coahoma C.C.
“I told him, ‘You’re about to be 19 years old. You’re not even in the peak of your body’s performance. Imagine if you get better now. That means you will be even better later,’ ” Hill said. “He said, ‘I understand that, coach.’ I told him, ‘Let’s not waste time. You have been in Columbus all of your life. Let’s go to Coahoma and show out.’ He has bought into that.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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