Tom Stevenson, the football coach at Taft High, admits that he would love to see Quincy Watts sprinting up the field on a pass pattern, or turning the corner on a pitch play.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing that about four or five times a game,” Stevenson said.
The chances are virtually zero, though, that Watts will ever suit up for the Toreadors’ football team. So Stevenson, who also coaches Taft’s track team, will have to be content with having Watts for only one sport.
Pity him not, for Stevenson has in Watts one of the brightest and most exciting sprinters to hit the Valley in quite some time.
“He’s a whale of a talent,” Stevenson said. “He is really fantastic.”
And really young. Of all the numbers concerning Watts, the most impressive one may be 15. That’s how old the 6-3, 185-pound sophomore is.
“Now,” Watts said, “when I get beat by somebody good, I say, ‘Hey, he’s got a lot of experience on me.’ . . .
“Come my senior year, I’ll be unbeatable.”
He may not have to wait that long. This season, he has yet to lose an individual race and has anchored Taft’s 400-meter relay team to the fastest time in the City Section this year: 42.6 seconds. In a West Valley League meet against Cleveland, Watts set a school record in the 220 with a time of 21.7. That is the best mark in the City so far.
At the AAU Junior Olympics last year in Oregon, he won the 220.
Watts also set a school record in the 100 meters with a 10.45 at the Birmingham Invitational last month. In that race, Watts defeated Simi Valley’s Mike Carnes and M.J. Nelson, two of the area’s top sprinters. His time in the 100 is second best in the City so far to Calvin Holmes of Carson, who ran a wind-aided 10.4.
Taft will have an important league meet at Reseda today, and Watts will be running his first 440 of the season. Last season at the AAU nationals, Watts ran a 48.5 in that race.
“For a 14-year-old,” Stevenson said, “that’s unbelievable.”
Watts’ times this season have left many disbelievers.
“I’ve shocked myself, really,” Watts said. “Last year, I was a newcomer to the sport. But my father kept saying, ‘If you work on it, your form and your starts, your times will be low like everybody else.’ ”
By the end of this season, Watts would like to lower his times to 10.3 in the 100 and 20.8 in the 220. “I really want to take the City in the 100 and 220 and take the relay team to a win,” he said.
Watts also wants to win two sprint titles at the state championships. Actually, he expects it.
“I think I can win when I step on the track,” he said. He’ll continue to think that way “until somebody proves I can’t.”
Better competition, Stevenson said, will help to lower Watts’ marks.
He’ll get that competition today against Reseda and Saturday at the Arcadia Invitational, one of the toughest high school invitationals in the West each year.
At Arcadia, Watts--who has been battling a strep throat since last week--will compete in the 100- and 200-meter races, and anchor Taft’s 400-meter relay team.
“It’s a time where I can stand out,” Watts said of Arcadia. “People can really know where my ability is, how I can do against other people with the same speed.
“In some meets, I can cruise. In this meet, I’ll have to come out of the blocks fired up.”
At Arcadia, Taft’s relay team will get another shot at Simi Valley. At the Birmingham Invitational, Watts started the anchor leg 15 yards behind Nelson and finished up only three yards behind.
“He’s a very strong kid, very fluid in his sprinting motion,” Simi Valley track Coach Don Green said. “There’s not a lot of wasted movement.”
Watts thinks that wasted movements cost him some races as a freshman.
“I was running off-balance. Each race I lost was by this much,” he said, holding two fingers barely an inch apart.
Watts had problems with his starts last season, falling behind early in most races.
“Now, I think my starts are good,” he said. “I’d like to get them to be excellent, where I can be out there with anybody.”
If Watts is behind early in a race, he usually can make it up because of his closing charge.
“The longer the event, the better he’ll be because of the length of his stride and size,” Stevenson said. “I kept telling him he couldn’t run the 100, then he ran the 10.4. That changed my mind.”
Said Watts: “Everybody wants to see the big man run the long race. Because I’m a tall guy, they don’t think I can get down in the 100 and hang with the little guys because their starts are quicker. But I’ll get down there and work. I can hang with anybody.”
Watts has left people behind since the third grade, when he was blowing past fifth graders in races at school. But it wasn’t until Watts was in the eighth grade that he ran in his first meet.
And since then, he said, the first things to cross the line in most of his races have been “me and my Nikes.”
“He has a lot of natural ability that is God given,” Stevenson said. “But’s he’s worked very hard to improve. Plus, he’s got a tremendous competitive attitude. He hates to lose. Most people who are champions hate to lose. That’s why they are champions.
“He’d probably enjoy running against Carl Lewis just to see what happens.”
Carl Lewis? Olympics? Quincy Watts? Reality?
“It’s not a long shot,” said Watts, when asked about the 1988 Olympics.
A big smile comes to his face when the Olympics are brought up. “This is how I feel: If my times are up there with the best, then I’ve got nothing to lose,” he said.
If Watts doesn’t make it in ’88, there’s always 1992. Watts would be 22 then.
“I don’t know if he’d be mature enough for the ’88 Olympics,” Stevenson said. “There’s a long way to go and there’s an awful lot of pressure on him. Maybe he can.”
Watts knows that there are several predicting greatness for him. “I like it,” he said, “but I just try to keep a level head about it. I don’t want to get big-headed.”
And according to his teammates, he hasn’t let the attention adversely affect him.
“I’ve been around a lot of good athletes and for a guy who is such an incredible athlete, he is not cocky,” said Curtis Hein, who runs the third leg on the 440 relay team. “Most people who are great athletes, you’ll hear other people say, ‘Oh, he’s so cocky,’ or ‘He’s a jerk.’ I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about him.”
Watts knows there are more pressing things to worry about than the Olympics, such as grades.
Watts failed a pre-algebra class just before the league finals last year, making him ineligible. He never had the chance to show what he could do at the City championships.
“I’ve been thinking about that all year,” he said. “I’m thinking about it now, about what I could have done as a ninth grader.”
Watts also missed one game of the recently concluded basketball season when his father suspended him for receiving a D on his 10-week report card.
“I’m doing pretty good in school now,” Watts said. “I’ve got a tutor and any time I need help, my dad takes me over there. It’s helped a lot. Last year I had a biology class and I got a C. This year, I’ve gotten a B+.”
After high school, Watts has plans to attend a four-year university. Right now, he said he would like to run track and play basketball.
Watts was a starting forward for the varsity team, averaging 15 points and 7.6 rebounds a game. He was named to the all-league second team.
“He sacrificed his personal scoring to help us,” Taft basketball Coach Jim Woodard said. “He was scoring 17, 18 points a game, then we decided that we needed him to bring the ball down the court against the press.”
In league, Watts averaged 12.9 points a game.
“I think he can be a major college player, a big-time guard,” Woodard said. “He’s got the tools.”
Watts said his favorite of the two sports depends on the season. But he knows that he has a better chance at making a name for himself in spikes, rather than high tops.
One name Watts has been called a lot is Carl Lewis, who collected four gold medals in the 1984 Olympics.
“I think it’s funny,” said. “I’m not up there yet. . . . But one day.”