With a strong showing at the outdoor track state championships, teams from Howard County proved they were a force to be reckoned with. Reporter Matt Owings recaps the 2014 outdoor season. (Jon Sham & Brian Choo/Baltimore Sun video)

After finishing just shy of a team championship at the county and regional meets, Long Reach seniors Tosin Oyewole and Robert Carter, Jr. — the team's top talents and undisputed leaders — knew there was still work to be done.

The Wilde Lake boys program had come on strong, taking the top spot at the first two meets of the postseason, and though the Lightning were known more for their efforts on the state level, that senior leadership in practice was clearly needed.

"We were strong at sprinting and hurdles, and our main goal was states," said Long Reach coach Sam Sesay, who primarily works with the team's sprinters. "When we lost at counties and regionals, it was all Tosin and Rob staying focused and working hard, reminding the team that we still had a great chance."

Sure enough, the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier co-outdoor track and field Athletes of the Year not only put their team on their backs emotionally; they did it in their events as well.

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Long Reach won the team state championship at Morgan State University with 68 points — 60 of which Oyewole and Carter's had a hand in.

Oyewole, the indoor track Athlete of the Year, continued his success at states with wins in the 100 (10.68) and 200 (21.53). Carter, the Maryland Gatorade Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year, relied on his hurdling prowess for victories in the 110- (14.22) and 300-meter (37.74, a personal record) hurdle events. The two also ran on the state champion 4x100 and 4x200 relay teams.

Overall, neither runner lost an event in any of the three postseason meets.

"It just shows how dominant Long Reach is," Oyewole said. "It shows how hard we work at practice and how great our coaches are. I'm very proud of the both of us."

Carter, who missed a large portion of the regular season while he recovered from an injury sustained following his indoor campaign, took pride in knowing the decision between Howard County's top two runners was too close to call.

"We battle in practice, so you know we both have great work ethic," he said. "I can't take anything away from sharing it with a teammate. If anything, sharing this award with someone who works hard and someone I've gone against makes me feel like that person is worthy."

This season, having Oyewole and Carter competing in every practice not only made the two seniors better runners, but it also served as an example to the rest of the team what hard work can ultimately achieve.

"You just don't get athletes like that," said Long Reach coach Pete Hughes, who coaches the hurdlers. "In 32 years of coaching, that's a first for me, and it's probably going to be the last time in my life."

After an impressive indoor season that garnered the attention of coaches across the state, Oyewole said he wasn't done showing how much of a threat he could be on the track. With goals of appearing on all the major newspapers' lists for outstanding performance, Oyewole made sure he didn't skip a beat as he finished his high school career and prepared for life as an Ivy League student-athlete at Brown University.

The hype leading into outdoor "drove me," Oyewole said. "To follow my indoor season with an even stronger outdoor one was important. I just had to keep a level head and stay humble."

Though some of the times Oyewole finished with weren't entirely up to his liking, the progress was clearly there. After running longer distance races earlier in the year to prepare for the ones that really counted, he felt confident in his abilities down the stretch.

"It was just staying focused. With all the success that he had, he had loftier goals for himself in the outdoor season," said Sesay. "There's been a lot of competition in the state. We wanted him to be in a position to be known on that level."

Carter's rise to the state's best hurdler came differently than what many would expect. Originally a football player, he transferred from Our Lady of Good Counsel after his freshman year.

Playing on varsity as a sophomore, that's where he met Hughes, the former head coach of the Lightning football program. To stay in shape for his primary sport, the veteran coach convinced Carter to try track.

"Rob was just an athlete, and we were trying to find an event to put his trademark on. He wanted to try anything," said Hughes. "He's been a pleasure to coach. He's the whole package."

It was hard at first for Carter to get the hurdling technique down, but before long, he was competing as one of the top athletes in Maryland by his senior year. Now, the former collegiate football prospect is taking his talents to Florida A&M on a track scholarship.