The track at Potomac (Md.) High is eroding. Patches of the rubbery surface near the starting line have peeled off, exposing the hard asphalt underneath. Things are worse on the backside where long swaths have been stripped away. "It should be condemned," said Potomac football Coach Ronnie Crump, who graduated from Potomac in 1989, the year he says the track was laid down.
This is where Ronald Darby, the fastest high school boy in the country this indoor season, trains. The 5-foot-11 junior acknowledges that the decaying track at the Oxon Hill school is taking its toll on his body. "It hurts my legs sometimes," he says. Despite having plenty of reason to, the All-Met doesn't despise his home turf, nor has he let it slow him down.
On Saturday, Darby will compete in the 60-meter dash at a meet in Osaka, Japan. The speedster is one of 12 Americans - six boys and six girls - selected to represent USA Track & Field in a friendly against Japan and Germany.
Coolidge's Demetrius Lindo is also part of the group that flew to Osaka on Tuesday and he will be competing in the 60-meter hurdles. Lindo owns the second-fastest time in the country in the 55 hurdles.
The 7,000 miles between Maryland and Japan represent the longest distance Darby has ever been from home. Still, the three-time Maryland state champion is used to traveling for competition. Last summer, in Sacramento, he won the 100 and the 200 at the USATF Junior Olympics. In early January, he clocked what is the nation's fastest times in the 55 (6.28 seconds) and the 200 (21.28) in New York. He continued his unbeaten streak in the 55 at the Virginia Tech Invitational in Blacksburg, Va., last week.
Track and field has allowed him to criss-cross the country, even given him a chance to flash his passport, but Darby says the sport will only take him so far.
That, however, is solely his choice. Darby thinks of himself as a football player rather than track star. He's already received 17 offers from major Division I football programs such as Notre Dame, Maryland, Florida and West Virginia.
"Getting dressed for game day, coming out on kick return. Track doesn't give me that feeling," Darby said.
Darby perceives any talk of straight-line running without mentioning his six 100-yard rushing games - he gained more than 200 yards in three of those outings - and 23 touchdowns from last football season as a slight.
Too soft-spoken and mild-mannered to protest outwardly, Darby holds it inside.
"It upsets me when people call me a track guy that plays football," Darby, a second-team All-Met running back last fall, said. "They don't know I just started running track my ninth grade year. I've been playing football my whole life."
Blazing speed and his No. 1 ranking make Darby special, but not unique. Westlake graduate and 2009 All-Met indoor track athlete of the year Devon Smith owned the fastest 55-meter time in the country during his senior year, then headed to Penn State to play special teams for the Nittany Lions.
Crump sees Darby in the mold of NFL running back Jamaal Charles. The 5-11 Kansas City Chiefs star finished the regular season ranked second in the league in rushing. He won a Big 12 100 meters title while competing for Texas.
"He's in the upper echelon," Crump said of Darby. "Barring injury, I can see him being successful in the NFL and representing the U.S. in the Olympics."