Brandon Hill didn’t know how close he was.

When his time flashed on the scoreboard at the Hart-Patterson Track Complex in Waco, the Harker Heights junior sprinter only saw that he had finished third in the 100 meter dash. Close didn’t count.

Third, no matter how close to second- or first-place, usually isn’t good enough, not to get the state track meet.

“I felt like I ran good enough to go to state, and then with the top-2 thing, I was like, ‘Ohh.’ But then my coach told me, ‘Well, we still have the wild card,’” Hill said.

Last year, Heights senior pole vaulter Regan Gilbert and Killeen triple jumper John Warren reached Austin as the newly-created wild card, after finishing third at their regional meets, and both left the state meet with silver medals.

“Just because you placed third at a certain region ... you can still go out and out-jump everybody in the competition,” said Warren, a sophomore. “I wasn’t really phased by being the only third-place medalist going to state. I just went out there and I competed and the jumps just played into my favor.”

This is the second year of the wild card rule allowing the best third-place athlete in each event across all four regions to earn an at-large berth.Warren is, again, the wild card in the 4A triple jump and joins Hill and Salado senior discus thrower Robert Emrick at the state track meet Friday and Saturday at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin because of the UIL’s second-year rule that gives one extra qualifier a second chance.

“I almost feel like it’s a chance to almost redeem myself from Texas Relays because I feel like it’s the same stage and everything, similar people,” Hill said. “It feels like I can go out there ... and show how I actually run.”

Hill finished sixth in the 100 at the 85th annual Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays at the end of March in 10.74 seconds. That was two-tenths of a second slower than his personal best this season and the time DeSoto’s Ridge Jones ran to win the event at the Region II-5A meet two weeks ago.

“You’re talking about tenths of seconds,” Heights boys track coach John Dulaney said. “He’s run better than he did at the regional meet. Some of the kids ran better at the regional meet than they did (before). What’s going to happen on Saturday?”Hill, who qualified outright as the region runner-up in the 200 meters, finished third in 100 at the Region II-5A meet in 10.58 seconds, just .03 of a second behind second place and .04 of a second behind first.

“Yeah, I’m glad they have that wildcard, because just taking the top two, especially knowing my time could compete, that would be kind of frustrating,” Hill said. “Oh man, that wildcard is amazing now.”His time is the sixth-fastest qualifying time going into the event on Saturday and actually would have won the Region IV-5A title by nearly a whole second.

“There’s the extra lane at the track, why not let the extra kid run? I think several kids have already gone in there and medaled as a wild card, including our pole vaulter last year,” Dulaney said. “I think that the proof’s in the pudding. Giving another top-notch kid a chance to go and compete, they’ll step up and that’s what we’re hoping Brandon does.”

Warren’s triple jump at the regional meet — 48 foot, 3/4 of an inch — is the third-best state-qualifying jump, giving Region I-4A the three jumpers to beat in Austin.

“I really didn’t want to place third and to get there on a special rule,” Warren said. “I wanted to show that I can jump out there and actually earn my spot at state.”After Warren’s qualifying jump, the next-best distance is 46-10 3/4 by the Region III champion.

“I don’t want to say there’s no talent in some of the other (regions), because everyone’s truly talented, but not everybody just wakes up and can go jump 40-something feet,” Warren said. “Some regions will have a bit more talent and it is unfortunate for those who do jump far enough to beat other people from other regions, but didn’t place in the top-2. I really do like the wild card.”

Emrick, who also qualified in the shot put, placed third in the discus at the Region IV-3A meet. His throw is the fourth-best qualifying attempt (157 feet) behind Salado teammate Ryan Simmons, who finished second in the discus and first in the shot put at region.

“Any wild card (qualifier) that gets there is going to be a top-notch athlete,” Dulaney said. “To get out of region is an amazing accomplishment. ... Overall, of course, we think the wild card is awesome because it’s been good for Harker Heights High School, it’s been good for other schools as well.”Alex Byington contributed to this report


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