Carroll County Times
Carroll County High School Sports

Boys Indoor Track And Field Athlete Of The Year: Century's Neral A Pole Vault 'Connoisseur'

Century's Nick Neral is the 2015 boys indoor track and field player of the year.

ELDERSBURG — It's an unseasonably warm day during the second week of March, juxtaposed with a few inches of snow still on the ground from a winter storm the week before.

Alone on the Century track after school is Nick Neral, shoveling what's left over off the mats so he can get in his reps at pole vault.


The Knights outdoor track teams are preparing to follow up on a successful indoor season where both the girls and boys squads earned county team championships.

Neral, who collected titles at the county and state levels this season in the event that has earned him recognition beyond just Maryland, has made more of an impact for the team than his efforts as an athlete alone.


Now a back-to-back Times Indoor Track Athlete of the Year, Neral is making his mark as a teacher, as well as being dominant at the pole vault for the Knights.

"Our coach is only here every other week," Century coach Tony Griner said of the team's pole vault coach, who is also Neral's father. "So other than supervision for them, [Nick has] really become their coach. He really does sacrifice his own time and his own effort to be that guy, to be out there."

During the course of a season, Neral's practice days can sometimes go without a single attempt for himself.

Griner said his top athlete is often more interested in working with his teammates on their technique, form and routine.

All that from the guy who former Liberty track and field coach Bobby Ward said "re-wrote the record book this year" with his state-best 15-foot, 5-inch vault at the MVAL Piedmont Conference championship.

That recognition from someone in Neral's own backyard has him excited for what else he could achieve down the line, whether it be through his own performance, or from those on his squad.

"I guess it's great to know that coaches around the area can look at me as someone who has helped rebuild the pole vault in Maryland," Neral said.

The senior practices at VaultWorx in Camp Hill, Pa., where many of the area's other pole vaulters go to train.


Not only is he working with others around Carroll County during practices, he's even taking them on the roughly 140-mile round-trip drive himself.

Athletes like Seth Jacobs, a junior at Century who improved at last year's outdoor state championship meet by an entire foot, point to Neral as the reason for their success.

"Every week he drives me to VaultWorx," said Jacobs, who finished third at this winter's indoor state meet with a 12-6 mark. "He coaches me. He'll look at the iPad and analyze everything. He'll tell me the marks. He'll draw on it, too."

That's Neral, not only looking at his own film, which he said he's constantly scrutinizing.

He's studying that of his teammates, which, in turn, makes him better as well.

"There's no better way to teach than to learn, or to learn than to teach," Griner said. "By doing that sort of thing, I think he's improving his own technique. The more you see and the more you teach, you see mistakes in your own approach."


It really doesn't matter how he's involved, the senior simply can't get enough of the sport. Griner called him a "connoisseur."

Neral had a better explaination.

"Anyone you talk to and mention my name, they'll tell you, 'He's obsessed with track and field.' It's literally my life, but I'm proud of that," Neral said. "I have a lot of fun in it, and I am very blessed to be able to know that I'll be able to do it the next four years, too."

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Soon, it will be Neral's turn to be the student once again.

He'll head to the University of Tennessee next year, joining a Volunteers squad that has premiere vaulters like Jake Blankenship, a junior who finished runner-up in the men's indoor pole vault at the SEC championship with an 18-3.75 mark.

The recruiting process was a difficult one, he said, but the soon-to-be Divison I athlete is energized by the choice he made, and how he'll fit into his new program once his high school days have come to an end.


Griner said Neral has learned from some of the pole vaulters to come through Century in the past. While some of them were more helpful than others, Neral has been able to pick up valuable lessons and apply them to his own training, and teaching.

He's working to advance the skill for Century and beyond, at least before he ships off to Knoxville.

"I'll always be the first one to give a kid advice, because that's the whole point of the sport and why Maryland is kind of small compared to the rest of the country," he said. "So of course you want to get to the next level."

Reach staff writer Matt Owings at 410-857-7893 or