Form was never Steve Delice's ally when he sailed through the 400-meter hurdles, so it was no wonder Coppin State track coach Carl Hicks looked askance at his potential recruit three years ago in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"When I first saw him, he wasn't running a good time," Hicks said. "And his hurdling technique wasn't very good."
What Hicks saw in Delice, however, were two qualities that have served the program well at Coppin -- tenacity and passion. It was enough for Hicks to invest the cost of tuition in Delice.
Turns out to be one of the best investments Hicks has made in nine years as head coach.
His arms still flail awkwardly when he attacks the hurdles, but Delice, now a 21-year-old junior, is an All-America hurdler and one of Coppin's most celebrated student-athletes.
He will lead an eight-man Coppin contingent into the NCAA East Regionals tomorrow in Tallahassee, Fla., hoping to earn a return trip to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Joining him will be Arlon Morrison (javelin), Shane Smith (pole vault), Carlinton Morgan (400 meters and 400 relay), and relay members Jieutonne Archer, Winston Whittingham, Dale Dunn and Andre Pinnock.
Imagine what Delice and his cohorts might do with the benefit of a track of their own.
"My form is getting better," Delice said. "Because we don't have a track, it's hard to get the practice I need. Once in a while, I get training over hurdles."
Hicks alternately buses his athletes to Morgan State, to a nearby high school or, as was the case last week, to UMBC to train. Even then, Delice has to take his own collapsible hurdles.
"I don't think I get as much hurdling training as I would like to get, but I do what I have to do," he said. "I take the good with the bad."
It's an attitude that has helped Delice make steady, if not spectacular, progress on and off the track. He was named the team's most outstanding performer for the outdoor season this year and its unsung hero for the indoor season.
Recently, he received the President's Eagle Award at Coppin as the male student-athlete who best combines athletics and academics (he has a 3.77 grade point average in global studies).
A native of Haiti who moved to Brooklyn when he was 9, Delice is one of the shortest hurdlers in the NCAA at 5 feet 8. It comes at a cost.
"Normally, hurdlers are over 6 feet," he said. "Their stride pattern is a long stride. Mine is short. In between hurdles, I can catch anyone. But when it gets to the hurdles, that's where the problem starts."
Still, Delice has trimmed more than three seconds off his 400 hurdle time while at Coppin. He established a school record with a time of 50.71 seconds -- good for second place -- in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference outdoor championships on May 1. Two weeks later, he matched that in winning the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America title.
His time stands sixth best in the East Region, 20th in the nation. The top five finishers in Tallahassee will get automatic bids to the NCAA championships at Drake, along with a select number of at-large bids.
Hicks said he expects Delice not only to reach the championships, but also to be a finalist. Delice will also compete in the open 400 and the 400 relay. He ran the anchor leg on the 1,600 relay team that won the IC4A title in school-record time.
This is all a prelude to the Summer Olympics for Delice, who will compete for Haiti in the 400 and 1,600 relays and, possibly, the 400 hurdles.
While track is his passion now, the engaging Delice has another, even more consuming desire. That's to be an actor. Last summer, he had the lead role in a Eugene O'Neill comedy, Ah, Wilderness!, an off-Broadway production. He also has performed regularly at theaters in Brooklyn.
Although he can't participate in Coppin's theater program because of his commitment to track, Delice will follow his heart onto the stage at some point.
"I love track," he said. "I know eventually the body won't be able to do track anymore, but I know theater will always be there for me. I have to think about which comes first. I want the degree first, so I have to put off theater for a while, but I will never let it go."