Moments before the start of Thursday's Mission League 100 meters track final, silence descended upon Occidental College. Fans stood in rapt attention in the bleachers. Competitors in the infield stopped warming up and started lining up to stare. Everyone was focused on the starter's pistol going off to unleash perhaps the fastest group of high school sprinters from any league in the nation.
When the gun sounded, eight runners dashed off. USC-bound running back Dominic Davis of Mission Hills Alemany got an early lead. Then the fastest 17-year-old in California, if not the nation, junior T.J. Brock of West Hills Chaminade, turned on his afterburners. He crossed the finish line in 10.45 seconds, beating Davis, who clocked 10.59.
Seven of the eight runners broke 11 seconds.
"It was amazing to have that kind of talent around you," Brock said. "It makes you want to do your best."
In 2013, all eight Mission League runners ran faster than 11 seconds, led by the eventual state champion, Khalfani Muhammad of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame. But league coaches insisted this group had even more depth and talent.
They've begun to call Brock "a freak of nature."
His mother-coach, Kanika, says, "T.J. is the special one."
Joe McNab has coached three state champions in the 100 during his years at Notre Dame, and he thinks Brock could be the next state champion from the Mission League.
"He's exceptional," McNab said. "It's going to be great to watch."
Brock, 6 feet 2, 154 pounds, certainly has the genes to keep running faster and faster. His mother was a track standout at USC and helps train professional athletes. His father, Tarrik, was an outfielder in the major leagues and coaches baserunning for the San Diego Padres. Brock also plays defensive back for the Eagles' football team.
"God touched that boy," Kanika said. "Some of us have to work real hard with what we do, and it comes naturally with him. He's so focused."
Brock won the 200 in 21.09 and anchored the 400-meter relay team to victory in 41.04. It was only a couple weeks ago he ran the 100 in a wind-aided 10.20 at Mt. San Antonio College, the second-fastest time ever by a California athlete. The fastest is 10.17 by Quincy Watts during his Taft High days. He went on to win an Olympic gold medal in the 400.
"This is the first time in a very long time I've been able to run healthy," Brock said. "Every year, I've always had some kind of issue going on because I normally grow around this time."
With a movie star smile, great intelligence and a humility that causes even competitors to appreciate his talent, Brock is the latest star athlete to come out of a league that keeps attracting top athletes from a variety of sports.
The Mission League produced first-round baseball draft picks
In track and field, the Mission League has top coaches who keep turning out top sprinters and top athletes. Loyola's David Long, a junior who finished sixth in the 100 with a time of 10.88, is one of the elite football prospects on the West Coast. The sprinters are so talented that C.J. Sanders of Notre Dame, headed to South Bend, Ind., to play college football and the defending Tennessee sprint champion, didn't qualify for the 100 final.
It's not just the boys showing off talent. Harvard-Westlake junior Courtney Corrin is one of the nation's top two-sport female athletes in soccer and track. She won the girls' long jump at 19-11 and the 300 hurdles in 43.63.
It's already been quite a year in prep track and field. Vista Murrieta's Michael Norman, a junior, has the nation's best times in the 200 (20.69) and 400 (45.91). St. John Bosco's Matt Katnik recorded a mark of 71-3 1/2 in the shot put.
The most anticipated races of the year could come May 29 at the Southern Section Masters Meet between Norman and Brock in the 200, followed by a meeting at the state championships in Clovis.
"Everyone loves speed," McNab said.
What's clear is that prep track and field is alive and generating plenty of excitement in Southern California.