Woodson’s six titles make him The Post’s boys Athlete of Year
Donald Woodson was a pretty good football player for St. Aloysius. He started at cornerback for two seasons and led the team with four interceptions last season.
It really was just a way to pass the time, however. His real passion was track and field.
“Coach (Michael) Fields came along and told me I was fast and showed me how to run,” Woodson said. “Last year, track took over everything. It’s what I woke up for, what I went to school for. It made me happy, made me excited, gave me something to look forward to every day.”
Woodson’s passion and natural talent were fuel for success. The senior rolled dominated the regular season and then did the same at the MAIS Class AAA state meet.
He won individual state championships in the 100 and 200 meter dashes, as well as the 300 meter hurdles. He was part of the 4×100, 4×200 and 4×400 meter relay teams that not only won, but set Class AAA records in all three events.
His remarkable run led the Flashes to the Class AAA team championship and made Woodson an easy choice as The Vicksburg Post’s boys track and field Athlete of the Year.
“It feels amazing. I can’t think of anything to possibly beat that,” Woodson said. “Having a state championship and winning six gold medals is something. Being a player of the year shows you’re noticed. It shows hard work and dedication to track has paid off.”
Woodson was the heir apparent to two-time Gatorade Mississippi Track Player of the Year DeMichael Harris in the 100 and 200 meters. Before this season, however, he had never once run the hurdles. At 5-foot-7 he’s far from the prototypical tall, lanky body type of a good hurdler.
“My first race with the hurdles, a guy from Park Place had a good three inches on me. The hurdles came up to my stomach,” Woodson said.
That changed when Connor Botting, the defending Class AAA champion in the 300, suffered a knee injury in February and St. Al track coach Michael Fields needed someone to stick in the event to collect some points.
On an off day from school, Fields and Woodson went to Hinds Community College in Raymond to practice. During the workout, Fields set out a hurdle and had Woodson try to clear it.
“I had horrible form,” Woodson said with a laugh.
Fields thought otherwise. He set out two hurdles, then several more. Before long, Woodson was running and winning in the event.
“I don’t know how he noticed somebody could be good at something, but he did,” Woodson said.
By the end of the season, Woodson was the favorite in all three of his individual events, and he won in all three at the state meet. His biggest challenger was teammate Jamar Williams, who finished second in both the 100 and 400 meters, and third in the 200. Woodson credited Williams with pushing him to be better.
“That was in no way easy. I came in first in all of them, but if it wasn’t for my friend Jamar I wouldn’t have run as hard,” Woodson said. “He got me in the 100 once. I’m proud of him for that. It made me work harder. I told him after that race that he got me one last time.”
As great as the individual titles were, Woodson was much happier to team up with Williams and a few other teammates to claim the three relay records. From the start of the season, he said, that was the biggest goal for everyone.
“It made it completely special. That’s what Coach wanted from the start, and that’s what we got him,” Woodson said.
The Flashes took down the 4×100 and 4×200 relay records first. Woodson and Williams teamed up with Preston McGowan and Antonio Thompson to clock times of 42.89 seconds and 1 minute, 29 seconds, respectively. Both were overall MAIS records as well as Class AAA records.
The last one was the toughest. The 4×400 is a long, difficult relay made moreso by it being the last event of the meet. The four Flashes running it — Woodson, Williams, McGowan and Tyler Lewis — were all exhausted and sore. Woodson was the anchor and had a comfortable lead by the time he got the baton, but wasn’t about to ease up.
“Before the 4×4, Coach Fields told us we had won state. We had the points. But he wanted us to end it with something to remember it by. He says you always remember the last thing you do, and that stuck with me. I didn’t want to lose the 4×4 or not get that record,” Woodson said. “When Preston took off and gave it his all, and then Tyler and Jamar got the baton and gave it their all … all three of them gave me their all and I had to give them my all.”
Woodson turned what could have been an easy lap into a record-breaker and a victory that resembled Secretariat galloping down the homestretch at Belmont. He crossed the finish line in 3 minutes, 26.62 seconds, a whopping 40 yards ahead of the next-closest runner.
“The 4×4 means the most to me, because it’s the last race of the track meet. Everybody that was on the 4×4 had events before that. We’re all tired. We’re all ready to go home and go to sleep,” Woodson said. “But it’s like the fourth quarter. It shows who had the heart. Our 4×4 time shows our personality, our heart, dedication and character.”
Woodson’s lap on the 4×400 was a fitting end to a spectacular season, and definitely something to remember. He said he hopes it’s not just in awe, though, but as a benchmark for the next generation of St. Al athletes to strive for and beat.
“I feel like not so much remember me, but trying to beat me. Trying to beat our relay team,” he said. “We had a goal all year to beat that 4×4 time. It’s all about keeping that goal high so the next group can fill our shoes and keep that legacy going.”