Two things you would have learned watching sprinter Streator High Aneefy Ford at the IHSA Boys Track and Field State Finals late last month in Charleston:
1). He is really fast
… and …
2). He is really competitive.
The former would have been evident from the Junior Bulldogs’ fourth-place finish in the Class 2A 100 meters with a time of 10.82 seconds.
The latter would have been made clear by Ford’s unenthusiastic reaction to his school’s best result at the IHSA State Finals in more than a decade and his immediate use of that sprint for fourth place – 0.12 seconds behind Herrin’s state champion Chris Nelson – as motivation for his yet to come senior season.
“He was really disappointed that he didn’t finish first,” said Streator boys athletics coach Ken Carlson. “I came over and gave him a hug and he started crying. He was like, ‘I was so close, Coach’ and I was like, ‘You’re just a junior’. You have another year.”
Although a state championship eluded Ford in his junior season, the 2022 Times Boys Athlete of the Year has won or contributed to many other top finishes.
After winning the 60 and 200 meter dashes in a preseason indoor meet hosted by Reed-Custer, Ford placed second in the 60 and won the 200 at the St. Ambrose Indoor Invitational. He qualified but didn’t get as high a spot as he had imagined at the Illinois Prep Top Times meet – commonly considered Illinois’ unofficial indoor state meet – then started to find his rhythm at the start of the outdoor season.
This included a third-place finish just ahead of senior teammate and fellow sprinter Cade Stevens in a loaded 100 at Hall’s historic Rolle Morris Invitational, with the two places swapped when Stevens placed third and Ford fourth in the 200 .
Ford and Stevens’ competitiveness with each other — when they weren’t teaming up with Streator’s state-qualifying 4×100 relay team, that is — helped propel the two to new heights. Stevens’ lightning-fast starts complemented Ford’s top speed well, making the two best sprinters as the season progressed.
“Cade was No. 1 on the block every time,” Ford said. “If I could stay even with him [in the early going], so I knew I could win the race. I don’t know how I’m going to do next year without having someone as good as him off the blocks. Next year I just have to work on it more and more.
Ford finished second in the 100 and 200 at the Gooden Lite Invite in Mendota, won the 100 and 200 – both just ahead of runner-up Stevens – at the Illinois Central Conference meet, then raced to a Section Championship in the 100 at Class 2A Plano Sectional on May 20. The 10.59-second finish qualified Ford for the 2A State Finals, with the Bulldogs ace also qualifying as the anchor for the aforementioned 4×100 team along with Stevens, Collin Jeffries and Quentin Goforth.
“[The 2021 season] was kind of a lost year for him,” Carlson said. “He messed up his foot or his ankle in football, and it took him a while to get going, and he just didn’t have a very good year. We started doing speed sessions for this season maybe in December, and he was there at most of them and continued to work there.
“It seemed like after qualifying for the Prep Top Times Meet, he really went after it and did a bunch of great things. … I could tell he really wanted to do well and was really focused from there.
Shifting his focus from strength training to rest during track season also made a big difference, Ford believes.
“At the start of the track season, I was doing a lot of work [with weights], practicing every day after track testing, and I was still very tired at the start of the season,” Ford said. “My first encounter, I ran [the 100-meter dash in] 11.5 [seconds]and I spoke with [Carlson] after that first meeting, and I said I didn’t think I’d make it this year, but next year for sure.
“Before my next meeting, he told me to stop training [so much with weights], to rest more. And I guess that’s what worked for me, just getting enough rest.
“I wanted to win [a state championship this year], but that did not happen. Now I have a year to prepare.
“I have no doubt in my mind that I can win.”