The moment his sole touches rubber, Upland High hurdler Delaney Crawford has no friends.
That’ll make for a difficult situation, then, when three of his closest friends will line up next to him for Saturday’s 110-meter hurdles at the Southern Section Division 1 finals. They’ve known one another since growing up at Pop Warner fields and youth track meets.
“We’ve been having the same vibe, ever since we’ve known each other,” Crawford said.
Kai Graves-Blanks is always joyful, the entertainer. DeQuan January Jr. is laid-back. Davis “L” Davis-Lyric is silent, a quiet assassin. Crawford is the Michael Jordan, taking no prisoners. The same vibe, always.
Lifelong friends will become rivals at Moorpark High, where they’ll be chasing the 110 hurdle title when trying to lead the No. 1-ranked Upland boys to a Southern Section championship. It’s a unique situation, hurdles coach Day Lyric said, qualifying four runners from the same school in one event.
Because only one can win.
“My attitude is just, ‘Go,’” Crawford said. “Everybody’s an enemy. Teammate or not, everybody’s an enemy.”
Each won their separate heat in prelims, qualifying second through fifth overall in the 110s after Cajon’s Seth Johnson, with Graves-Blanks and Crawford also qualifying for the 300-meter hurdles. Their plan at the finals, Crawford said, is to finish one through four.
Order to be determined.
“Knowing that any of them could take it at any time is a good feeling to have as a coach,” Lyric said.
Tabbing the top finisher of the bunch could be as scientific as tossing darts at a board. Graves-Blanks offers the most upside, currently holding the second-fastest time for a Californian with a 13.64-second clocking at a March 26 meet in Texas.
Crawford, meanwhile, bounced back from an injury-riddled start to the season with a personal best of 13.98 at the Baseline League finals on April 29. Track isn’t even Crawford’s main sport — the senior is headed to play quarterback at the University of Virginia in the fall.
“He’ll be the next Lamar Jackson, and we’re excited to see him do that on the football field,” Lyric said. “But on the track, he’s just a different guy as well.”
The sleeper of the group — in personality, too, as a self-labeled introvert — is Davis-Lyric, who’s repeatedly set personal bests in the last month. The key, he said, has been working with Lyric, his father, to bring down his lead and trail legs faster, keeping as low as possible over the hurdles.
The group has stayed together over the years. Played football — at least, Crawford, Davis-Lyric and January — together. Came up in the youth track scene together. Last season, and twice more this season, they obliterated the California team record for the 440-meter shuttle hurdles together.
“That was probably one of the greatest moments of my life … seeing them have this on their jacket for the rest of their life so they can tell their kids,” Lyric said.
Now, they’ll all compete in Saturday’s finals — separated by lanes, turned temporarily into just another number to beat. Friendships can resume after their feet cross the finish line.
“When we’re about to race, we just bump each other’s fists, slap each other’s hands … because we know in a race like that, we’re each other’s biggest competition,” Davis-Lyric said.
Of course, their ultimate goal is to propel their Upland boys’ team to a Southern Section title — something head coach Tarina Brown hasn’t seen in her six years helming the program. When she was hired, she said, she was given the task to put Upland track back on the map, decades after it built a powerhouse program under coach Bob Loney.
It’s certainly marked its place again, thanks to runner-up finishes for a Southern Section boys’ title in 2018 and 2019. The key, Brown said, is a special system she’s developed alongside husband and Upland sprints coach Ronald Brown.
What is that system, exactly?
“If I give away the system, everybody will be doing it,” Brown said, with a hearty laugh. “I would just say, ‘Running is the key to everything.’ That is the philosophy I live by.”
It’s a philosophy members of the team have bought into. Perhaps the most notable success story is senior Christopher Coats, whom Brown said never ran track before he joined Upland’s team as a sophomore. This season, Coats owns the fifth-fastest time in California in the 400-meter dash and qualified for Saturday’s 200 and 400 finals.
“Everybody can’t train at that level,” Brown said. “Chris did it.”
Simone Smith, a junior on the girls’ team who qualified for Saturday’s triple jump, did it too. So did London Davis, who earned a spot in the girls’ 110 hurdles. And so did the quartet of Graves-Blanks, Crawford, Davis-Lyric and January.
All of them are trying to follow in the footsteps of Upland‘s greats before them.
Even if three of them have to lose.