Sometimes it's not how you start, but how you finish.
That might be true for most track and field athletes, but it's particularly accurate when describing East St. Louis (IL) Senior High School hurdler DeVontae Ford's prep career. His evolution has landed him at the top as he looks toward his collegiate pursuits.
Ford's successful senior year has also made him an honoree in the Illinois High School Sports Awards. The winners will be announced on the show website July 15. If he wins, he will become an honoree for the first national USA TODAY High School Sports Awards show, presented by U.S. Polo Assn. The on-demand national show will stream on the show website 8 p.m. Eastern Aug. 5.
Ford recently captured the Illinois High School Association Class 2A 110-meter hurdles crown with a personal best time of 14.07 seconds.
"I had never been to conference or sectionals, let alone state," Ford said. "So it was breathtaking to be there. I was overjoyed. I went from never even thinking about being in the sectional meet to being at state in four events. I was behind in the (state 110m hurdles) race, but the last two hurdles I felt a surge. To see my name come across that board for first place was overwhelming."
He also qualified for state in the 200 meters, 300m hurdles and the 4x400m relay.
During the Mascoutah (IL) Sectional meet earlier this year, Ford recorded the fastest 300m hurdles time in the state (37.31 seconds).
Recalling Ford's arrival on campus four years ago, East St. Louis Senior High School Track and Field Head Coach Barry Malloyd noted there was little indication that during his senior season he would evolve into a premier student-athlete garnering national prominence.
"He was very immature," Malloyd said. "He was constantly getting put out of my meetings and I would put him off the bus prior to going to meets because he was always saying something out of order."
Malloyd, a former IHSA Track & Field State Champion, AAU Junior Olympic National Champion and US Track & Field All-American, joyfully acknowledged Ford's redemptive metamorphosis by his senior year, calling him mature and ready to lead the team.
"I was floored, proud and happy for him. He put in the work and time while maintaining his humility," he said. "He didn't run from success, he ran to it."
Ford acknowledged the shift as well.
"One day I was at practice, talking with Coach Malloyd and told him I was going to qualify for New Balance (Indoor Nationals)," he said. "I don't know what happened, but whenever that came out of my mouth, it triggered a change. I stopped talking in practice, started working and participating in the harder group workouts. Everything felt different."
Malloyd said Ford worked, "his butt off, listened, understood what the goals were and understood the game plan."
The affable Ford qualified in the 60-meter dash at the New Balance Indoor Nationals in March 2020, before the event was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the cancelling of one event couldn't stop Ford. He even went as far as competing in cross country for the first time in his athletic career prior to track season to ensure he would be afforded an opportunity to run competitively.
Thankfully, the track season did happen, and now Ford said he is exploring college offers from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, the University of Illinois, Drake University and the University of Kentucky, among others. He will study Computer Science.
Prior to competing at the 2021 Nike Outdoor Nationals in Oregon, where he battled for top honors in the 110m and 400m hurdles events, on June 27 Ford earned gold medals in the 110m and 300m hurdles at the CYUP Last Call Invitational in Chicago, clocking winning times of 14.31 seconds and 38.60 seconds, respectively.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: East St. Louis track phenom DeVontae Ford one of the best in Illinois