By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
AUSTIN - It took him a year, but Prezel Hardy finished the race.
After pulling up 30 yards shy with a "tragic" hamstring injury in last year's high school boys 100-meter dash, the former Ellison standout just wanted to cross the finish line.
And although he was admittedly disappointed in his sixth- place finish in the University men's 100 Saturday at the 84th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays, the always competitive Hardy - now a freshman at Texas A&M - was content with a much more important victory.
"At least I got to finish it this year," Hardy said. "That was, if not the No. 1 thing, one of the things on my to-do list for today."
Hardy, fellow Aggie freshman Michael Bryan - another former Eagle - and the other A&M sprinters checked a few other things off the list.
Competing in the two events that practically ended their Ellison careers - and any dreams of a state championship - the duo anchored A&M's 400-meter relay team to a first-place finish with a time of 38.71 seconds.
In fourth entering the third leg, Bryan straddled the final curve with workmanlike precision to count himself among the leaders when he passed the baton to Hardy, the anchor leg.
"When I did finally see him, I took off my mark and brought it in - the rest is history," Hardy said.
Bryan had also qualified for the 100, but pulled out after complaining of a leg injury.
It likely didn't make much of a difference as Aggie senior Gerald Phiri blazed his own trail to win the 100 with a time of 10.06 - eclipsing a 35-year meet record set in 1976 by Ed Preston of Arkansas State.
"It was the last thing I saw before I went to sleep, and I said 'I'm going to get that record' - no lie, I said I was going to get that record tomorrow," Phiri said.
That effort, along with relay victories in the 1,600, 3,200 and sprint medley, helped Texas A&M claim the revered title as most outstanding team at the Unversity of Texas' Mike A. Myers Stadium.
Returning to the scene of the crime 371 days removed from their worst experience on a track, Hardy and Bryan claimed long sought-after "redemption" with the Aggies.
"We were excited, we were amped to run again, it was just redemption," Bryan said. "That's all we were thinking about - redemption. We had to redeem ourselves, and we came here and did that."
It was Bryan's own hamstring injury - pulling up mere feet from completing the third baton handoff with Hardy in the 400 relay - that started the Eagles' series of unfortunate events. Hardy was forced to backtrack for the baton, then sprint from the back of the pack with one of his fastest splits just to finish second by 0.16 seconds.
After pushing himself to the limit - to the point of erupting with a roar as he crossed the finish line behind DeSoto's Reginald Reed - Hardy admitted later he didn't feel right entering his last of three events that fateful day.
But, as the prep sprinter said more than a year later, "The past is the past, there's nothing you can do about it, you can only look to progress in the future."
Running the third leg of the 800 relay earlier Saturday, Hardy dropped the baton on the final exchange, costing the A&M men potentially a fifth relay victory with a fourth-place finish.
"It really struck them that this is serious business - I actually saw them disappointed for the first time, and I think they're really embracing the fact that they're here at A&M," Phiri said of Hardy and Bryan. "I keep telling them that this is your new castle, this is your new legacy you're going to carry on your shoulders."
After breaking her own school record in the 100-meter preliminaries Friday, Baylor senior sprinter Tiffany Townsend of Killeen was pleased as she tied her one-day-old school record of 11.09 for a fourth-place finish in the 100 finals.
"I'm way ahead of what I've done in past years, so I'm very happy," Townsend said. "It's a good time, I'm glad I'm being consistent, and I'm just going to keep pushing and go forward."
A year after earning a trip to the Class 5A state meet, former Copperas Cove hurdler Roberto Camacho returned to Austin only to match his fifth place finish in the 300-meter hurdles with one in the College division 400 hurdles Saturday with a time of 54.37.
Former Harker Heights athlete Jermaine Jamison also struggled at the Relays, finishing ninth in the University men's high jump with a height of 6 feet, 8¾ inches, well below his season high mark of 7 feet (2.11 meters).