By Andrew Stark
The change was quite simple, really, but the results it produced for Independence boys track and field standout Caleb Walker have been phenomenal.
Walker began this season at a Waxhaw Marvin Ridge meet, where he placed fourth in the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 17.54 seconds and seventh in the 300 hurdles at 45.14. Not bad for the beginning of his sophomore season, but it wasn’t exactly the level where Patriots head coach Ken Waldron and first-year assistant Darrell Pegram expected him to be.
“(Waldron) knows what I know and sees what I see,” Pegram said. “And we see (the same thing) in Caleb.”
So they made changes.
The coaches believe Walker has immense talent but felt it was being spread among too many events, so the first change they made was to get Walker’s focus away from the other events – discus, long jump and shot put– and had him devote his time more exclusively to hurdles.
“We talk about him throwing the shot, and that’s great and all, but (hurdles) is what can get him into college,” Pegram said. “This is what he’s really good at. He’s gifted. That’s one thing, but the other part to that is that he’ll work. A lot of gifted people won’t put in the work, but he will. But to be honest, it took a little while because he wanted to do everything.
“He’s decent at everything, but he’s great at (hurdles).”
So Pegram, a veteran track coach who’s also the director of youth development and training at the Stallion Track Club, worked with Walker on the nuances of the event and, more specifically, how he was using his trail leg when he cleared the hurdles.
As a result, Walker’s times slowly started improving. After a while, the teenager started to believe in what Pegram and Waldron were teaching him.
Walker admits that participating in too many events last year was a major reason he failed to qualify for the Southwestern 4A conference and Western Regional meets, so he made that one of his goals this season. But he’s done much more than that.
At the Southwestern 4A meet on May 5, Walker won the 110 hurdles, as he clocked a then-personal record of 14.93 seconds. It was the first time he’d broken the 15-second barrier, but he was far from done for the day.
Walker rounded out the performance by recording a third-place finish in the 300 hurdles (41.93) and, for good measure, added a ninth-place showing in the long jump (17 feet, 10.75 inches) and was 12th in the shot put (36 feet).
While his all-around game was impressive, Walker was most enthralled with how his hurdle times were plummeting.
“The season’s gone really well,” Walker said. “I’m proud of how my times have come down, but it’s really been my coaches. Coach Pegram came in and taught me some things with my form, and I ended up getting better. It was all in my trail leg. My trail leg wasn’t so good last year or at the start of (this) year, but he helped me fix it.
“I also think I’ve been finishing faster. I need to work on my starts because they aren’t the best, but my finishes have improved.”
And on the heels of his breakout performances at the conference championships, Walker took his success a step further by recording a personal best in the 110 hurdles (14.72) in the preliminaries at regionals. And although his run in the finals was three-tenths of a second slower, it was still good for fourth place. Walker also just missed his personal-best 300 hurdles time but ran 41.81 seconds to finish eighth.
And with the Class 4A championship meet on the docket for Saturday, May 18, Walker’s hoping to improve upon his times even more.
“Realistically, I really want to place (at the state meet),” Walker said. “I feel like I can come in first place, but there are a lot of really fast kids who’ll be there. Being at regionals showed me that there are lots of people out there who are working just as hard as I am.
“Even if I don’t win, I know that I have to keep trying and working at it to get better.”
So no matter how well the state meet goes, Walker plans on doing just that.
He didn’t run indoor track this winter and said he usually spends his summers getting ready for the football season – he’ll play varsity this year after playing tight end and wide receiver for the JV squad in 2012. But this summer will be different, as Walker plans on training with Pegram, a former track star himself at Claremont’s Bunker Hill High in the 1970s.
With the extra guidance, Pegram believes Walker can become even better.
“I don’t make predictions about potential, but he could be somewhere in the low (13-second range),” Pegram said. “His work ethic’s there, but he has to keep working on trusting his count. Hurdles are a rhythm sport, and if he keeps trusting his count, he has the potential.”
Waldron said he, too, could see Walker’s breakout sophomore season being just the beginning of what might become a stellar career.
“He listens, and he works hard,” Waldron said. “We have some guys like (senior sprinter Jack) Tocho, who’ll do anything that you ask, and it’s like having another coach on the track at all times. Jack is the top of the apex.
Caleb is getting there, but he’s still young.
“He has his brother (Joshua) and all of the other hurdlers to push him in practice. All of our hurdlers made it to the conference and regional meets, and they’ve improved greatly as the year’s gone on.”
Walker might’ve improved the most, however, and now he said he’s ready to follow Pegram’s advice and take his talents to the next level.
“He’s experiencing something right now that he’s never experienced,” Pegram said. “Whatever sport you participate in, you should do it to the best of your ability. He’s (going to train this summer and) he’ll be going against some of the best in the nation, not just the best in his region. That’ll make a big difference.”
With the state meet awaiting this weekend, not to mention two more seasons of high school track remaining after that, Walker believes some great achievements are in reach. And with the extra training from Pegram this summer, he thinks those achievements could come rather quickly.
“I have really come to love hurdles,” Walker said. “I think this summer is going to be great working with (Pegram) and focusing just on hurdles. In hurdles, it’s more about having good form. If you have good form, you can go pretty far in this sport.”