by Dan Eberhard

After watching ECU Freshman sprinter LaShawn Merritt warm up during a recent track practice the first question that popped in my head was, “can this guy catch a football?”

Only half kidding I asked Merritt and he responded with a grin and an arms-extended pose.

Don’t get your hopes up football fans.  Merritt gave up the gridiron for good in high school to pursue what has already become a decorated track and field career.

Last month at the Tyson Invitational the 18-year old set an NCAA indoor record in the 400 meters with a time of 44.93 seconds, nearly half a second faster than the old record. 
“I think my opponents thought I was going to slow up at the 200 meter mark, but I just kept on running,” said Merritt.
Even veteran ECU track coach Bill Carson was a little surprised.

“When he came through the 200 in 21.04 seconds I was a little worried it was faster than what he was ready for but it didn’t phase him a bit.”
Last weekend Merritt won the 200 and 400 meters at the Conference USA Championships.  He’ll be the favorite to win both events at the NCAA Indoor Championships as well.
It’s no surprise the freshman is already drawing comparisons to the greatest 200 and 400 meter runner ever, Michael Johnson.  His 44.93 in the 400 is the third fastest time in history indoors and has only been eclipsed by Johnson.
With a resume of this caliber at such a young age perhaps the most surprising thing about the ECU track star is how humble and approachable he is.  Merritt jokes with his teammates in practice but listens intently when coach Carson gives instruction.  He takes the same attitude to the track.
“I don’t see it as I’m the person to beat in a race.  I know my opponents have experience over me, so I just run my race and let them come get me.”
The rest of the track world will likely be trying to come get Merritt as long as he’s running.  Events to pay attention to in the coming months will be the collegiate national championships and the nationals this summer.  Already a junior world champion Merritt hopes to make it to the world championships this summer as well.

As for the Olympics, “I’ll just be graduating from college in 2008,” said Merritt.  “I think that’s my perfect time.”

Dan Eberhard