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Coaching Lights Up Watts These Days

Quincy Watts remembers standing atop the medal podium at the Olympics, wearing his gold medal, having the American flag wrapped around his shoulders and seeing his father beaming with joy.

“It was a great feeling of achievement,” Watts said.

Nothing was supposed to top the level of excitement and accomplishment Watts felt after winning the 400 meters at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Ten years later, he has found a new way to experience athletic contentment as track coach at his alma mater, Woodland Hills Taft.

“I never thought I would get the same amount of joy winning a race myself as watching other kids I’m coaching when they win,” he said. “For them to come back and see the look in their eyes, that’s as big a joy for me as standing on the Olympics stand.”

Watts, 32, has been helping coach Taft’s cross-country team with a little assistance from his friends, Maurice Greene and Johnny Gray. Greene is the reigning Olympic champion for 100 meters and former world-record holder. Gray is the U.S. record-holder for 800 meters.

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The question is: Will they have enough time to coach in between signing autographs for parents and students?

Cameroon, Zambia or Tanzania could use a coaching staff like the one Watts has put together at Taft.

Give credit to Principal Myra Fullerton for pulling off the coaching hire of the year last May.

No one is a better role model for what it takes to succeed in college and sports than Watts.

He wasn’t an exceptional student during his days at Taft, but he never stopped studying because he knew it was the only way he’d get to college and be able to continue his dream of competing in the Olympics.

He made it to USC, earned his degree, won an NCAA 400-meter championship and two Olympic gold medals.

“I try to tell young kids today who think sports is the only way, if you don’t have a balance between sports and academics, I don’t care how fast you are or what kind of football or basketball player you are, you’re never going to have the opportunity to progress to the next level,” he said.

“You have to take care of your academics, for that’s the only way you’ll be able to showcase yourself on a world stage.”

Watts serves as a personal trainer to several NFL players during their off-season workouts. He also has helped train high school athletes.

For almost two months, he has been working with 6-foot-8 basketball player Nick Stiggers of Van Nuys Montclair Prep, meeting him at 6 a.m. for workouts on the track at North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake.

“I told him if you can get in shape and be a big man that can run the floor, you can give yourself a chance to play at the next level,” Watts said.

Stiggers has lost more than 20 pounds, and Montclair Prep Coach Tyrone Fuller is thrilled.

“He was able to play well for one quarter but wasn’t able to sustain the energy level,” Fuller said. “The workout he’s on is unbelievable.”

It’s going to be interesting to see how Taft’s track athletes respond to Watts’ tutoring.

Asked about his coaching style, Watts said, “I’m going to do whatever I have to do to get you motivated. If I have to scream, I’m going to scream, but with a lot of love.”

Some of Taft’s students are getting a little cocky by challenging Watts to a race. He retired from racing last year.

“I’m going to have to get into shape,” he said.

Of course, he could always ask Greene to fill in.

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Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.


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