Paul Peters, Santa Ana Valley High School's sprinter extraordinaire, had a goal Thursday as he warmed up for his team's dual meet against Canyon in Anaheim.
Peters wanted to record the fastest time this season among Orange County athletes in the intermediate hurdles, eclipsing the previous best mark of 40.2 seconds by Western's Kirk Ayers.
Peters stretched one of his long, powerful legs across the top of one of the hurdles, contemplating his task ahead.
Strategy? There wasn't any. He would merely run as fast as he could, hoping he didn't trip over one of the eight hurdles in the 300-meter race.
Training? Forget it. Peters conceded that he had run the race only three times before and had practiced the grueling race only once all season.
Results? Peters ran a 39.8, the top mark in the county. He also won the 100 and 200 meters and was a member of the Falcons' winning 1,600-meter relay team. It was all in a day's work for the county's top sprinter.
Peters, a lanky 6-foot 1-inch senior, had defied the work-ethic mode that practice makes perfect. He was merely running the race to earn the points.
"I only entered the race because the team needed the points," Peters said. "My coach (Noble Franklin) suggested I try the event, and I told him I'd do whatever it took to help the team win."
Peters' team attitude and undefeated status in the sprints, however, hasn't helped the Falcons in dual meets. The two-time defending champions have failed to win a Century League meet.
Peters was one of four excellent sprinters at Santa Ana Valley last year, but he has been virtually a one-man show this season. His times in the 100, 200 and 400 meters are the best in the county this season.
"We've spent three years together," Franklin said. "Paul was on two very talented teams, and now we're in a down cycle. I think we were all a little shocked last year when his times went down so quickly.
"This year, he's had to become a little more realistic. He thought his times would go down every meet, but that just isn't the case. Also, he's had to learn to take his lumps now because the team isn't as strong as it was in the past."
The humbling of Peters began last fall on the football field. The Falcons struggled to a 2-8 record and were outscored, 231-72.
Peters played tailback, wide receiver, defensive end and safety. He also punted and returned punts. He said he scored the majority of his team's touchdowns and led the team in sacks. Despite only one league victory for his team, he earned first-team, all-league honors.
"It was a very frustrating season," Peters said. "But we proved we weren't quitters. I've played football since I was in Pop Warner in Long Beach, and I'm going to play next season at Rancho Santiago."
Peters will be among today's entries in the 400 meters in the Mt. San Antonio Invitational in Walnut. The race will be his first test against top high school competition throughout Southern California.
Earlier this month, Peters skipped the prestigious Arcadia Invitational, electing to run against area competitors in the Orange County Championships the same day in Mission Viejo, in which he won the 100 and 200 meters.
"I wasn't dodging those dudes from L.A., but I wanted to prove I was the fastest in Orange County," Peters said. "It might be in some people's minds that I was ducking the competition at Arcadia, but I give my best no matter who I run against."
Peters is anticipating a big showdown with Santa Ana's Tony Mosley in a dual meet Wednesday in Santa Ana. They are considered the premier sprinters in the county, but have not met this season.
Mosley competed in the 100 meters at Arcadia, but failed to finish among the top three in the morning's open meet. Meet organizer Bob Jackson said the third-place finisher's time was 11.13. Peters ran a 10.7 against Canyon Thursday.
"We're both undefeated in the sprints," Peters said. "I really want to beat him because he's been doing a lot of talking, telling everyone how well he did at Arcadia. I'll beat him and it won't even be close. I'll win by a knockout."
Canyon's Eddie Washington, who finished second behind Peters, agreed the race between Mosley and Peters won't be close.
"I ran against Mosley and Paul will beat him," he said. "Peters pulled away from me in the last 30 yards, like he was racing with two more gears. I ran against Mosley, and no way he's going to beat Peters."
Peters says his best race is the 400 meters, which is considered to be the most difficult event in track and field. The race tests a runner's speed and endurance.
"It's my best event, but so far this year, nobody has pushed me," Peters said. "I like the challenge of the 400. The race is usually close and it separates the real competitors.
"I think the race shows who has the most heart. It's a speed and endurance race. I always figured you find out who wants it the most when it's over."
Mt. SAC Relay Notes
Prep competition in the Mt. SAC Relays will start this morning at 8:30.
Last year, Muir High School recorded a school-record 40.89-second clocking in the 400-meter relay at Mt. SAC. Corey Ealy and Ricky Ervins were part of that four-man team, and both later reached the Southern Section 4-A finals in the 100 and 200. Ealy won the two titles, then went on to finish third in the 200 and fourth in the 100 at the state meet, leading Muir to a tie for fifth in the team standings. This season, with Andreas Douglas and Marcus Robertson joining Ealy and Ervins, Muir has run 41.28 in the 400 relay, the second-best time this season in California behind Hawthorne's 41.28. Ealy, Ervins, Robertson and Jason Gray have also clocked a 3:18.49 in the 1,600 relay, the fourth-fastest time in the Southern Section. The Mustangs will be looking to move up in both at today's Mt. SAC meet.
Individually, Ealy is No. 1 in the Southern Section and No. 3 in the state at 100 meters with a wind-aided 10.60 last Saturday at the Mt. Carmel Invitational near San Diego--he has a legal 10.87--and No. 1 in the Southern Section and No. 4 in the state in the 200 with a 21.35 two weeks ago at Arcadia. Ervins has run 10.92 and 22.2, which could give Muir another 1-2 punch in the 4-A finals next month. Robertson, meanwhile, has California's best time in the 800, a 1:54.06 at Arcadia.