When Cedric Zellner, Spalding's standout senior sprinter, entered high school in the fall of 2001, he had his sights set on making the team -- the basketball team.
At 5-foot-9, he was "one of the taller kids" on his middle school team, and he thought the hardwood was the place for him. But he played center and forward on those teams, and never really learned the skills for guard, the position he would play in high school. Result? Zellner never made the junior varsity.
Senior Cedric Zellner once wanted to play basketball at Spalding; he enters this season as a top sprinter, having won three MIAA titles.
(Photos Don Wright For The Washington Post)
As it turned out, the basketball team's loss was the track team's phenomenal gain. Within a couple of months, the 14-year-old from Baltimore had impressed his coach enough to run the 4x400 meter relay (including at the Penn Relays) and had what he termed "a decent year. I won a couple of meets; it was fun."
And even though he missed the season-ending Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association championships with a strained quadriceps muscle, he was hooked.
Three years, three MIAA titles and two Junior Olympic Track and Field Championship appearances later, Zellner is arguably the county's top sprinter.
He has a few goals in mind for this season, such as running 20.5 seconds in the 200 and capturing a medal at this summer's Junior Olympic meet. First and foremost, however, is making it three straight MIAA championship wins in the 4x400 with teammates Dan Stacy, Mike Beard and James Russell.
"All of us say we want to leave Spalding with the MIAA record," said Zellner. "We want to be in the record books for our 4x400." Last season, the quartet came up just short of the record, running 3 minutes 27.53 seconds.
That kind of team-first attitude from Zellner pleases Spalding's ninth-year coach, Andy Witte, who said the sprinter's "maturation process" -- from speedy runner worrying about his own times to "team leader" with a "tremendous work ethic" -- has been refreshing to watch.
"He's always had the talent, but the last couple of years he's more of a team player, helping others out," said Witte. "And it's reflected in his work ethic. He lifts weights, does a lot of drills. Now he's really like an assistant coach working with the sprinters." Zellner, at a typical practice, will work with 10 to 15 teammates (boys and girls), making up drills based on what he's learned from his summer track team at Glenarden Track Club in Prince George's County.
He joined that club team after his sophomore year in 2003, and before the summer was out, his 200 time at regionals (held at Prince George's County Sports Complex) was fast enough to earn him a spot at the Junior Olympics in Miami. (He also ran the 4x400 relay that summer.) Zellner called that talent-laden event "high school championships multiplied by a million" and credited his familiarity with the PG Sports Complex track with helping him land a spot at the nation's premier prep track meet. Last summer, he qualified for the Junior Olympic meet again, running in the 400.
Zellner's stock among the nation's top sprinters soared again last month, when he finished 12th in the nation in the 60-meter dash (7.02 seconds) at the Nike Indoor Nationals.
"At the all-comers meets [those open to all ages] I ran the 60 with college kids," he said. "That stiff competition . . . that's what made me ready to run as well as I did."
He hasn't firmed up college plans, but isn't ruling out Tennessee. His uncle (and former top-10 nationally ranked sprinter) Torrance Zellner ran for rival SEC school Florida. He's got a goal in mind for that level, too.
"I want to be able to make it to the NCAA championships . . . before I leave college."