For Oakland Mills' Tony Cole, forging a reputation as one of the fastest high school sprinters in Maryland begins when he's not moving at all.
The process is simple and precise. The sweat pants stay on until the last possible moment to keep the leg muscles warm. A mandatory regimen of stretches ensues.
The left foothold on the starting block is moved two clicks down from the top, while the right foothold is moved six clicks down. And before the starter's gun goes off, before Cole's legs begin moving faster than a Survivor outcast at a buffet, he does one more thing: His mind goes blank.
"I just clear my mind in preparation for the gun," the senior said. "I relax and tell myself that I'm going to do well in this race."
The formula is a success. Cole owns six gold medals in indoor and outdoor track and field in four state meets.
He is the two-time defending Class 1A state titlist in the 100-meter dash in outdoor track. And at the 2A-1A state indoor track and field championships at the Prince George's Sports & Learning Complex today, Cole will be the favorite to retain the 2A-1A state title in the 55-meter sprint he collected last season.
If Cole repeats today and collects more hardware in May at the 1A state championships, Reservoir coach Sam Singleton believes Cole's legacy will burn brightly.
"I think he will be remembered as one of the fastest kids in the area," said Singleton, the architect of an Oakland Mills program that captured eight outdoor and five indoor state crowns between 1992 and 2002 and produced the likes of Damon Ferguson, Kyle Farmer and Cole. "I think he's going to be an outstanding competitor on the collegiate level."
Parlaying his speed into a college opportunity was a distant thought for Cole, who could beat his elementary- and middle-school classmates in street races, but played computer games during those years.
Cole, who took up track during his freshman year at Oakland Mills, said the relative ease by which he defeated his friends in races did not prepare him for head-to-head battles with Farmer, a two-time All-Metro Performer of the Year who earned a scholarship to the University of Florida.
"I was kind of arrogant when I came out," Cole recalled. "Kyle Farmer was there, and I was, like, 'Kyle Farmer? Who is this guy? I'll burn him.' "
That all changed when Farmer took out the youngster in the 200 at a meet at Long Reach. "I just made a promise to myself that I was going to be a dominant runner like him one day," Cole said.
Cole has lived up to that pledge with 14 Howard County titles in indoor and outdoor track since his sophomore campaign. But despite that record of success, Cole said his achievements gained little notice outside the state.
That's why Cole journeyed to Blacksburg, Va., on Jan. 31 to participate in the Virginia Tech Invitational. Taking on a national-caliber field that included DeMatha's Anthony Wiseman and Suitland's Serge McGill in the 55, Cole finished second with a time of 6.38 seconds - a mark that is tied for the seventh-fastest time in the nation.
"I wanted to establish myself because it seemed like people ... didn't believe in my speed," said Cole, who was beaten only by Woodrow Wilson's Lashawn Merritt (6.33). "So I went to Virginia Tech to prove them wrong, and that's exactly what I did."
Scorpions coach Bryan Winfield said Cole's performances then and now are built on his ability to get out of the blocks swiftly and smoothly.
"If you notice at the start of the race, he's gone by the time they start catching up to him," Winfield said.
Cole is more than willing to share his expertise with his teammates. After he won the 55 at the 2A-1A East regional championships, Cole analyzed junior Lenny Lucas' starts and offered advice on how to release tension in his arms and legs.
"What we just went over, I felt very relaxed, and that's what I've got to do," Lucas said. "I've learned everything I know about sprinting from this guy."
For now, Cole's first and only priority is breaking Farmer's 1A state record of 6.38 seconds in the 55.
"I know I can do it," Cole said. "I've tied it. All I have to do is run a hundredth of a second faster, and I'll do it."