* Washington during the 2019 outdoor track and field season
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"I know we're in a pandemic, but this is the next four years of my life." -- Connor Washington
By Cory Mull
Connor Washington shut his mind off on that first trip to Alabama. Tried not to think about beliefs or expectations, the kinds of intentions that lead to goal-setting.
But it's hard for anyone of a certain age not to think about the future, especially if yours is particularly unclear. National Signing Day had come and gone in November, and Washington, the No. 2 ranked recruit in the country, still was uncertain on just where he was headed.
Still, the Woodlands College Park senior knew any pressure he placed on himself would only come back in some form, possibly at the wrong time, and he didn't want that bad mojo.
So the 17-year-old put his head against the window, still 10 hours and nearly 700 miles of road to cover, and dazed off during his latest road trip across America.
From Louisiana to Mississippi and into Alabama they went -- they being his father, Nelson, and his teammate, Robert Griffin Jr. -- with the eventual destination being The Galleria Games in Birmingham on December 19.
Still, Washington remained collected.
"I was mentally telling myself, 'Hey, don't worry about anybody but myself,'" he said. "'I've trained for this moment for about eight months. Whatever goes down, I deserve it. Be satisfied with your times.'"
* Washington in a loaded 200m final at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in 2019
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Washington's patience would eventually pay off, as the Texan produced top 20 performances in the 60m (6.86) and 200m (21.89) to go along with a US top five performance in the 400m of 48.51 seconds.
"I felt good," he said. "I performed decently well."
More than that, the performance marked a significant step for Washington, who had gone mostly radio silent over much of 2020.
The Houston area sprinter was one of many nationally-elite sprinters in his class to opt out of the majority of competitions over the pandemic-fueled 2020 season. He ran only once following the cancellation of the UIL outdoor track and field season in March, posting an all conditions time of 10.82 seconds in Dallas at the Track Dynamite Invitational in July.
And "I wasn't feeling good that race," he said.
In some ways, it was a backwards-performance, not in any way the kind of effort he was capable of. Washington's junior year was only a glimpse of the 6-foot-2 sprinter's talent, and on March 6 he burst into the national rankings with a career best outdoor 100m time of 10.42 seconds.
Then, months later, as his peers began committing -- and then signing -- with collegiate programs, Washington held back. He had never been one to rush.
"I know we're in a pandemic," he said just a day after National Signing Day opened up on Nov. 11, "but this is the next four years of my life."
Nearly a month later, he still hasn't narrowed it down to a final list. While he's closer, he says he's keeping his thoughts close to the vest, or at least closest to those who know him best. He says he'll sign with a program around March, right as the outdoor track and field season begins to bloom.
Nevertheless, whichever program lands him will get a steal.
* Washington won a UIL Class 6A 400m title as a sophomore
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Washington has firmly etched his name into the books as one of his class's top recruits. The previous indoor season saw him produce one of just seven sub-48 performances for boys athletes across the United States. His time of 47.96 seconds was No. 1 in the junior class.
As a sophomore, he won an AAU Junior Olympic Games 100m title in the 15-16 age group division with a time of 10.55 and finished just a hair behind Erriyon Knighton in the 200m in 21.15.
Knighton, as most know, competed in a scaled-back AAU Junior Olympic Games in 2020 and scored a new sophomore class record in the 200m with a time of 20.33 seconds. He also ran a US No. 1 time of 10.29 seconds in the 100m.
"You miss the competitiveness and the feel," Washington said of racing. "Your times go up and you don't know when your next race is going to happen. It's a wait and see approach."
But rather than miss out on another season, Washington instead was ahead of the curve in December, competing earlier than he ever had before -- nearly a full month from previous seasons.
"It was one of those things," he said. "My summer coach contacted my dad and said, 'We're looking at this meet. Would you like to compete?' I said, 'Of course.' It was a no brainer."
By then, Washington was thinking about all those months of training, nearly eight months of straight grind. Weeks of pushups and situps. Core lifts. On-the-fly home workouts.
His father Nelson, however, had been a huge help, working with his son on block starts and other key regiments.
The pair had a staple workout: 300s at 95-percent, with a few minutes rest, then a hard 200m.
"Trying to hit that feeling of fatigue so when you did have a meet you would know what it feels like."
That time spent working on the little things paid dividends.
"Blocks are definitely a strength right now," he said. "I'm definitely feeling the power to propel myself down the track."
Ultimately, that first competition would go on to set up another, a nearly identical one in fact.
Being mindful of how well his debut went, Washington returned to Birmingham on Jan. 2 at the USATF Indoor Hoover Alumni Invitational.
On the same routine went. Only this time, Washington felt in control.
Perhaps it was no surprise that Washington cut time in each of his events, posting career best efforts of 6.86 seconds in the 60m and 21.39 in the 200m. He followed with a performance of 48.44 seconds in the 400m.
He wasn't necessarily making up for lost time.
In his eyes, he still had plenty of time before he had to worry about the future.
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Have a great story to tell? Email MileSplit USA editor Cory Mull at firstname.lastname@example.org