Morgan stars schooled in history

Bears' key sprinters remember tradition in MEAC title push

College track and field

May 04, 2007|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun reporter

Herbert Nicholls, a senior from the Washington suburbs, is about to earn a degree in community health.

Reggie Carter, a freshman from Philadelphia, plans to major in business management.

Both Morgan State sprinters, however, are minoring in their sport's history.

They'll be serious players in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference track and field championships, which began yesterday and continue through tomorrow, at Hughes Stadium.

There may be no stopping Norfolk State, which is poised to repeat an unprecedented sweep of the cross country, indoor track and outdoor titles. But before the Spartans collect their hardware, the Bears can defend their home turf in the climactic event, the 1,600-meter relay.

Nicholls is a veteran who knows about Morgan State's tradition in the 400-meter dash. Even if he drops a chunk from his career best of 46.70, the school record of 45.40, set in 1983 by Ed Yearwood, is a long way off.

"He [Yearwood] comes to the Legacy Meet we have here in April," Nicholls said. "Of course, if you're talking about Morgan State quarter-milers, you've got to start with George Rhoden."

Rhoden was a Morgan State student in 1950, when he set a world record in the 400. He got his degree, won the one-lap at the 1952 Olympics and anchored Jamaica to another gold medal in the 1,600-meter relay.

It wasn't overseas in international competition, but Carter closed the Penn Relays last Saturday with a performance he can take into old age.

The 259th and last race at the 113th running of the world's largest annual gathering in the sport was the IC4A 1,600 relay, the championship for Eastern schools.

Carter got the anchor baton with a lead, surrendered it to East Carolina's Brandon Small, but passed him back and held off Navy's Paul Harris and Maryland's Sean Lowe to take a blanket finish in 3 minutes, 11.65 seconds.

"That was a real gutsy anchor Reggie ran," Nicholls said. "Some freshmen, if they had been passed by one guy and challenged by two others who are NCAA qualifiers, they might be overwhelmed."

It was old hat for Carter, who split 46.1 at the Texas Relays. Before he won two Pennsylvania state titles in the 400, the 2006 crown in 47.32, he was thrown into the Penn Relays mix as a freshman for Bensalem (Pa.) High.

"My father used to take me to Penn when I was a little boy, and I figure I ran in eight high school races there," Carter said. "In that way, I'm not going to get overwhelmed, but on Saturday afternoon, when there are 50,000 people at Penn, that's a big deal even for the pros."

Without Cashmere O'Neal, who ran 46.88 in junior college but is nursing a minor injury, Morgan State coach Neville Hodge had Keith Anderson and Nathaniel Lettman on his Penn foursome.

Both Carter and Nicholls found their way to track as frustrated football players.

A two-way back in high school, Carter didn't let go of his football dreams until his senior year at Bensalem was derailed by shoulder and ankle injuries.

Nicholls was a wide receiver and kick returner for Gwynn Park High in Prince George's County. Finding few avenues to college in that sport, he joined the track team and led the Yellow Jackets to a state title in 2002. His winning 400 - 47.48 - remains the state Class 3A meet record.

Five years later, Nicholls has shaved less than a second off that mark, which he posted as a relative novice. At last year's MEAC championships, he ran his personal best in the preliminaries, then failed to break 47 seconds and finished third in the final.

"Every single meet," Nicholls said, "can be a learning experience."

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