EUGENE, Ore. – When asked what his strategy was in running his NCAA national championship-winning 400-meter race, freshman Randolph Ross Jr. mistakenly gave the world a small glimpse into one of track and field’s most important and extraordinary relationships.
“Me and my dad,” Ross Jr., said referring to his father and North Carolina A&T’s director of track field and field programs, Duane Ross.
“Well, me and my coach, sorry,” Ross Jr. said as he quickly changed Ross’s title. “We’ve been working on the first 350 (meters) because we know I’m strong.
We’ve been training for this all year. We knew if I got to 350 first, the rest would be easy.”
The relationship between father and son is close, and neither man shied away from it Friday night. Ross Jr. won the 400m NCAA national championship Friday at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at the newly renovated Hayward Field with a time of 43.85. It was the fastest time ran in the world this season, the second-fastest time ever ran at an NCAA championship meet and the third-fastest time in collegiate history.
Ross Jr. won the school’s first-ever national championship in an outdoor event. He is the first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) athlete to win a national title since Bethune-Cookman’s Ron Ash won the 110-meter hurdles in 2009.
And he wasn’t done.
Later in the evening, he helped the Aggies capture the 4×400-meter relay national championship as he joined junior Daniel Stokes and seniors Akeem Sirleaf and Trevor Stewart to run a 3:00.92 race.
The Aggies also had a fourth-place finish in the 4×100 and a ninth-place finish in the 200m. Ross Jr.’s performances in the 4×100, 4×400 and 400m helped the Aggies finish third nationally with 35 points, the highest finish ever for a Division I historically black college or university.
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“This young man is special,” said Ross. “He’s nowhere near his full potential. I’m so proud of him and his national championships as a father and a coach.”
In March, the NCAA conducted two different 400m races for the national championship. Ross Jr. went out first and set the pace, running a 44.99. LSU’s Noah Williams ran in the second race and was able to catch up to Ross Jr.’s pace by winning the indoor 400m national championship in 44.71.
On Friday, there was one race. And this time, when Ross Jr. set the pace, there was no catching him.
When the runners came off the curve, Ross Jr. and Stewart, his teammate, went down the stretch 1,2. But even Stewart, who trains with Ross Jr. on a routine basis, seemed a bit thrown off by the pace set by Ross Jr.
Over the final 50 meters of the race, Ross Jr. sprinted out to a big lead as the two other viable national championship contenders in Williams of LSU and Stewart faded. Texas A&M’s Bryce Deadmon finished second (44.44), followed by Williams (44.93) and Stewart (44.96).
“I used to look at the TV and the Olympics and see runners run a ’43’,” said Ross Jr. “It’s crazy to look up and see yourself doing it. It’s a blessing.”
Ross Jr.’s 400m performance set social media on fire, and he did not let it simmer. Twitter caught ablaze again in the 4×400 when Ross Jr. took the baton on the second leg and took the Aggies from sixth place to first place in a matter of seconds. Once Ross Jr. gave N.C. A&T the lead, Sirleaf and Stewart grew the lead as the Aggies completed the 4×400 indoor and outdoor 2021 national championship sweep.
They were the best 4×400 team in the nation all season.
“We made an error early on in the relay that put us behind, but I never doubted these young men,” said Ross. “They wanted that championship too much. This relay is a part of them. It’s what we do.”
The Aggies now have four national championships, all under Ross’s leadership. Kayla White won the indoor women’s 200m title in 2019 to go along with the 4×400 sweep of 2021 and Ross Jr.’s outstanding 400m performance on Friday.
That is enough to make any dad, sorry, any coach proud.
Courtesy: NC A&T Athletics