Damon Brockenberry first knew he was fast when he was 11 years old.
“I knew when I first beat my dad in a race,” Brockenberry said. “He used to run track when he was in high school, and I beat him in a race up the street.”
Now, Brockenberry, who overcame an injury-ridden junior season at Hammond to become a state champion as a senior, is Howard County’s boys track and field Athlete of the Year.
His coach, Jaovon Wright, said Brockenberry is worthy of the award.
“It’s very cool. I’m very proud of him,” Wright said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s always asking what he can do to get better. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Brockenberry’s junior season was marred by injuries. He injured his quadriceps at the end of indoor season. After battling through that injury, as well as other leg ailments during the outdoor season, he pulled his IT band, a tendon in his thigh, during the 400-meter race at regionals, which ended his hopes of qualifying for the state meet.
“I went into a deep, dark stage,” Brockenberry said. “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if I was ever going to be healthy or run fast again.”
Brockenberry and Wright knew he had the speed to be one of the top 400-meter sprinters in the state, so his offseason work after his junior year was focused on injury prevention.
“He bought into the system we have here, and he did all the right things to be this successful,” Wright said. “It was more so eating right, replenishing his body properly, more stretching, drinking water and understanding the preparation that goes into it. Once he bought into that, the rest is history.”
Brockenberry, who started running track when he was 10 years old for Fast Track in Landover, ended his season with seven postseason medals.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 167-pound sprinter won the 100- and 400-meter dashes at counties. His 10.92-seconds time in the 100 and 48.50-seconds time in the 400 were both the best postseason times Brockenberry posted. His most exciting finish was beating Atholton’s Kristopher Lytle by one-hundredth of a second in the 100.
At counties, he also ran the fastest time in the 200-meter preliminary race before tweaking a muscle in the finals.
“I’ve still had some small things this year, but I got through them. I think the injuries (last year) helped me know how to take care of my body more and take it seriously,” Brockenberry said. “The injures overall were good for me, even though it was bad at the moment.”
At the Class 2A South region meet, Brockenberry won the 400, finished second in the 100 and placed third in the 200.
Finally, at his first state meet, Brockenberry won the 400 with a time of 48.66 and finished third in the 100 in 11.01. He also placed fourth in the 200 with a time of 22.89.
“I didn’t know what to expect. That was my first time at outdoor states,” Brockenberry said. “I didn’t know how to go about it, because everyone else had experience. When I first got there, I was nervous, but when I got on the track, I was focused on winning.”
He said strong competition in Howard County fueled him to improve his 400 time during the season. Oakland Mills’ Rafi Cason and River Hill’s Chase McGeehan rounded out the top three at states, and that doesn’t include Howard’s Maxwell Myers, who finished second at counties but was injured at regionals, and Reservoir’s Emmanuel Ibeh, who won the 400 at states in Class 3A.
“It showed me that I have to work harder than them, because I know they were working hard,” Brockenberry said. “I knew I needed to maintain and continue to get better.”
“It makes it so he’s not relaxed,” Wright said. “Your can’t be over confident when there are always people on your heels. It makes you run faster and train harder.”
He said his key in his best event, the 400, is about deciding when to kick it into another gear.
“I don’t sprint the whole thing,” Brockenberry said. “I have a race strategy for it. I wait for a certain time to go and when to speed up. I want to keep it under control and make sure it’s smooth. If you go out too hard, it will affect you at the end.”
Brockenberry also thanks Wright, who started as Hammond’s head coach in 2017, for helping him get healthy.
“I wouldn’t be here without coach Wright,” Brockenberry said. “I wasn’t healthy at all, and I didn’t know what to do. He was willing to help me get out of my funk to get better. He’s the athlete of the year, too.”
Wright said Brockenberry’s injuries last season made him a more “mentally tough” runner.
“If you come into a race and you don’t have confidence, it’s not going to look good for you,” Wright said. “If you have that mental toughness, it gets a little easier. He had that this year.”
What separates Brockenberry from other runners, Wright said, is his desire to win.
“He doesn’t quit,” Wright said. “He hates to lose, whether he’s second or last. If he’s not in first, he’s not comfortable.”
Also named to the All-County team are:
Rafi Cason, Oakland Mills, senior
Events: 400 meters, 200 meters, 4x100 relay and 4x400 relay
Highlights: Cason was Howard County’s top boys performer at the state meet at Morgan State University. The sprinter medaled in four events, winning the 4x100 relay (42.58 seconds) and 4x400 relay (3:23) and finishing second in the 200 (22.33 seconds) and 400 (49.04 seconds). At the Class 2A South region meet, Cason, who didn’t compete at counties, also took home two silver and two gold medals in the same events.
Kristopher Lytle, Atholton, senior
Events: 100, 200, 4x100 and 4x200
Highlights: Lytle won two gold medals at both counties and regionals. The sprinter won the 200 (22.03) and the 4x100 (42.61) at the county meet and the 100 and the 4x200 at the 3A East regional. Lytle also finished second in the 100 (10.93) and 4x200 (1:29) at counties. The senior qualified for the states in the 100.
Loick Amouzou, Hammond, junior
Events: 110 hurdles, 300 hurdles
Highlights: As the top boys hurdler in Howard County, Amouzou took home medals in both hurdling events at counties, regionals and states. He finished the 110 hurdles in 14.34 and the 300 hurdles in 39.45 to take home two silver medals in 2A. He won the 110 hurdles and was runner-up in the 300 hurdles at the county meet. At the 2A South region meet, Amouzou took home gold in both events. He was also on the indoor track and field All-County team for the 2018-19 season.
Deon Breland, Oakland Mills, senior
Events: 110 hurdles, 300 hurdles, long jump, 4x100 and 4x400
Highlights: Joining Cason in Oakland Mills’ winning relay teams at states was Breland. The senior also finished fifth in the long jump and qualified for the 300 hurdles in 2A. At regionals, Breland won the 4x100, placed second in the long jump (21-4), second in the 300 hurdles and third in the 110 hurdles. At the county meet, Breland finished behind Amouzou in the 110 hurdles (15.29) and ahead of him in the 300 hurdles (39.05) for the gold medal. He also won the long jump and finished second in the 4x100 at counties.
Emmanuel Ibeh, Reservoir, senior
Events: 400, 200, long jump and 4x400
Highlights: Ibeh was one of several talented 400-meter runners in Howard County this year. After finishing fifth in the event at counties, Ibeh won the event in 49.19 seconds at the 3A East region meet and won the gold medal at the state meet. At counties, he finished third in the 4x400 and the long jump. At regionals, he took second in the 4x400 relay (3:29) and third in the long jump (21-1). He also qualified for the 200 at the state meet.
Anish Nanjappa, River Hill, junior
Events: 800, 1,600, 3,200, 4x800
Highlights: As the top boys distance runner in Howard County, Nanjappa won medals at all three postseason meets. He finished third in the 3,200 and the 4x800 in 2A at the state meet. At regionals, Nanjappa placed second in the 1,600 (4:24) and 3,200 and third in the 800 (1:59). At the county meet, the junior won the 3,200 (9:32) and 4x800, while finishing second in the 1,600. Nanjappa was also on the indoor track and field All-County team for the 2018-19 season.
Cameron Hindle, Long Reach, sophomore
Highlights: As the other top distance runner in the county, Hindle won gold medals in the 1,600 at the county meet (4:24) and the 3A East region meet. He qualified for states, placing eighth in the event. Hindle was also on the indoor track and field All-County team for 2018-19.
Chase McGeehan, River Hill, senior
Events: 400, 800, 4x200 and 4x800
Highlights: McGeehan won the 800 at counties (1:58.08) and regionals. At counties, he also won the 4x800 and placed third in the 400. At the 2A South region meet, the senior finished third in the 400 (49.13) and second in the 4x800, while at the state meet he took home bronze medals in the 400 and the 4x800 (8:00.55). McGeehan also made All-County for his success during the indoor season.
Collin Greene, Howard, junior
Events: Shot put, discus
Highlights: Greene, along with Howard’s other field event athletes, helped lead the Lions to their second straight Triple Crown this season. Greene won the shot put and took third in the discus throw at the county meet. Greene then won the event at the 4A North regional and placed fourth in the discus (134-2). At states, Greene and finished fourth in the shot put (50-4.5) and also competed in the discus. Greene was also on the indoor track and field All-County team for 2018-19.
Alex Kohn, Oakland Mills, junior
Event: High jump
Highlights: Kohn won the high jump at the county meet (6-2) and at the 2A South region meet. He finished seventh in the event at states.
Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at email@example.com or on Twitter @jcalvinmeyer