Anthony 'Ace' Valentine settles into his runner's stance like a ticking time bomb, ready to explode into a full sprint.
Clad in his neon yellow and green, Valentine has executed this routine countless times. Whether it's in practice or a big meet, it's obvious he doesn't let his focus waiver.
On this day, though, it's just fun and games. His dad and sister watch him goof off for the camera on Howard High School's track. In between runs, he jokingly holds his up his index finger in true 'I'm No. 1' fashion.
Valentine just returned from the 2013 AAU Junior Olympic Games in Michigan, where he took home a national championship in the long jump, as well as two silver medals in the 200 and 400-meter dash.
The scary part is, Valentine may just be scratching the surface of his potential. After all, the standout athlete with the big smile is still only eight years old.
And when you ask him about his favorite thing about competing on the track, he responds in the short, to-the-point way you'd expect from a kid his age.
"When you get to beat people," he said. "When I have a lot of competition … I really get pushed."
On the surface, he is a typical elementary school kid. He loves cheese pizza, the Baltimore Ravens and playing football and basketball. Valentine, who says he's had the nickname "Ace" for as long as he can remember, is bursting with energy.
"He's the loudest kid you'll probably ever be around," his father, Craig Valentine, joked. "Without having to push him at all, he's outside playing basketball for four hours at a time."
Ace will enter the third grade this fall, yet his attitude about success seems worlds ahead of his peers.
"He's one of those kids who doesn't realize what he has just done," his father said. "I know he understands it, but it doesn't go to his head.
"He's onto the next thing."
Flying by his competition
When Ace was just six, he found himself racing against runners two years older than him at a regional championship in Hagerstown. His family didn't have high expectations, knowing their son was contending against much older competition.
Ace bolted out ahead of his opposition from the eighth lane. At around the 200-meter mark, the Valentine family waited for the rest of the field to catch up.
Except it never happened. Ace kept his lead and walked away victorious. Each year since, he has shown a steady ascent to the top of the national stage.
Sharron Smith, Ace's track coach, has high praise for her pint-sized pupil.
"Ace is basically before his time," the longtime coach said. "He's very focused and very determined."
Smith said it is easy to forget that he's still just a child.
"When I got him at five years old, he was shy and connected to his mom," she said. "The next year, I just saw him grow into himself. He just blossomed."