Duke lifted self and Patriots team as a whole
by Andrew Stark
The Independence boys track and field team had just one senior on its roster this season. For most teams, that would be a weakness. But in the Patriots’ case, having Austin Duke was their biggest strength.
The Patriots didn’t have a jumps coach this season, so Duke assumed that role and, at meets, sought tips and training drills from opposing coaches to use with his fellow Independence jumpers. Duke took it upon himself to lead his younger teammates, often times concerning himself more with their development than his own personal training.
On the track, it didn’t appear to matter, as Duke was simply outstanding. At the 4A Western Regional meet, he won the triple jump championship, was fourth in the 100 meters and fifth in the long jump. At the state championships, Duke placed third in the triple jump.
Duke’s postseason tear, coupled with his Southwestern 4A conference 100-meter and triple jump championships, earned him Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2012 Matthews-Mint Hill Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year award.
“The best thing to do (being the only senior) is to lead by example,” Duke said. “Every time we broke out, we’d say, ‘If you’re not first, you’re last.’ And that motivated me all year.
“You don’t train to come in last; you train to be first. Second and third is nice, but people don’t remember who finished second – they remember who won. That’s how I try to live my life every day.”
Patriots coach Joe Evans said Duke thrives in leadership roles, and the senior’s guidance was a key reason the Patriots were successful this year.
“I have known Austin since he was in the eighth grade, and I know what type of kid he is,” Evans said. “When leadership gets put upon him, he’s not the type of kid who shies away from it – he takes it and runs with it. I don’t have to tell him to do extra stuff, because he is already doing it on his own.”
Duke has accepted a football scholarship with UNC Charlotte but would also like to run track for the 49ers. Although he didn’t win the state championship that he was seeking, Duke was pleased with his season and, ultimately, his track career at Independence.
“I’m walking out with my head up because I feel like I did the best that I could,” Duke said. “I feel like I tried as hard as I could, I competed and did everything that was asked of me.”
Evans, who also is an Independence football assistant coach, couldn’t agree more.
“Austin is a leader – a natural leader,” Evans said. “People see the work he puts in and they want to do the same thing. We are going to miss him in football, track and at school. He’s a great athlete and an even better kid.”