St. Al sprinter Harris shattered records during memorable season

Published 7:33 pm Saturday, May 28, 2016

The video, shot from the stands on a cellphone and posted to Facebook, isn’t the best quality. And yet, it doesn’t need to be. As DeMichael Harris passes in front of it, nearly 20 meters ahead of the nearest competition, his dominance is evident.

The St. Aloysius senior is like a cross between a Ferrari racing Yugos and Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont, a freakishly fast human machine built for speed and asserting his dominance against a pack of worthy competitors who never stood a chance.

That 20-second video clip from the MAIS state track and field meet is a piece of history. It shows Harris becoming the first high school athlete in Mississippi to ever run the 200-meter dash in under 21 seconds. He also won state titles in the 100 and 400 meters that day, both with times that shattered existing MAIS records, and added two second-place relay finishes to his haul.

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Now, a few weeks later, he’s putting one more remarkable accolade on his resumé — the 2016 Vicksburg Post Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year award. It’s the second year in a row that Harris has won it.

“It’s definitely a blessing to get it back-to-back years. To get it one time is a blessing. To get it two times, that’s great. I just want to thank my coaches and thank my family for it,” said Harris, who has signed with Hinds Community College to play football and run track.

Harris also won the 100-, 200- and 400-meter state championships in 2015, when St. Al was a member of the Mississippi High School Activities Association, and was the Gatorade Track and Field Player of the Year for the state.

This spring, however, Harris was chasing more than just championships. He was chasing history.

Once track season dawned, it was obvious that Harris had no competition in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools — and rarely from anywhere else. His times in his three individual events were the fastest in Mississippi all season, either in the private or public school ranks.

“It’s easy being the one that’s hunting, but being the one that’s being hunted is the real challenge,” Harris said. “I took on that role this year and didn’t really have a problem with it. I kept the same mindset I had last year, and the same results.”

The only question, then, was if he could put an exclamation point on the end of it all by breaking the MAIS overall records. He needed to run less than 10.77 seconds in the 100, 21.56 in the 200, and 49.34 seconds in the 400 — all marks that he had bettered at some point in the regular season.

The 100-meter record was the first to fall. Harris ran it in 10.55 seconds. The 400 was next, as Harris shattered it with a time of 47.96 seconds that was more than three seconds better than runner-up Caleb McNeil of Hartfield Academy.

Then came the crowning achievement, the 200, which took on the air of a victory lap. Harris was 15 yards ahead and pulling away less than halfway through the race. By the time he crossed the finish line two seconds ahead of Greenville-St. Joseph’s Brice Johnson, it was the kind of legendary win people talk about years later.

Harris won with a time of 20.87 seconds — the first time ever in a state meet in either the MAIS or MHSAA that anyone had gone under 21. The previous best was 21.03 seconds by Vicksburg High’s Terrell Smith in 2014.

“I tried to come out as hard as I can. I know my training has prepared me to run at full speed when most people don’t. I just trusted my training. You’ve got to attack the race,” Harris said. “It feels great, but in the back of my mind I’m always thinking somebody is working just as hard or is just as fast, and I’m trying to catch them. I let myself enjoy it, but not for long because I know it’s time to get back to work.”

Harris’ record-setting day also gave him a rare distinction. He set the MHSAA Class 1A records in the 100 and 400 in 2015, so for at least one year he’ll have a place in history as one of the fastest men ever in both of the state’s high school athletic associations.

“It’s pretty cool to say I have the private and public school records, but I don’t really brag too much. I don’t know how long they’ll stand,” Harris said. “I think the public school records will last maybe five years. But the private school, I think they’ll stay up a little bit longer.”

Harris’ next race will be at the New Balance National Outdoors meet June 17-19 in North Carolina, and possibly the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics after that if he can achieve a qualifying time. After that it’s off to Hinds and, he hopes, much more beyond that.

“I’m embracing it. I’m ready for the next step. I know it’s going to be a big difference between high school football and track, and college football and track, so I’m just ready for that transition,” Harris said. “I’m looking forward to both of them.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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