By James Butler
MCDONOUGH Ga. –
It has been a common sight over the last three seasons to see at least one Eagle’s Landing Golden Eagle standing atop a podium as a track and field state champion. Eagle’s Landing boys runner Devin Dixon is the two-time defending state champion in Class 4A 800 meters, while Betty Jackson (pictured) just won her first Class 4A 800-meter State Championship at last week’s girls championships.
Devin will be going for a three-peat in the 800 at this week’s boys state championships in Jefferson, and he is also favored to capture the 400-meter state title there. Claud Spinks has been the head coach of the Golden Eagle track and field program for 12 years, and in that time he has had other state champions. However, even among other elite athletes, he says that Dixon and Jackson are special.
“One of the things that is really unique about them is the range they have,” Spinks said. “Both can drop down and run fast in the shorter races, but both of them have been All-State in cross country as well, so that is pretty unique.”
Jackson, a junior, won her 800-meter title last week with a time of 2:15.99. She was dominant in the prelims and finals, as in the finals she finished nearly three seconds faster than her next closest competitor.
“It was time for her,” Spinks said. “She deserved to win one. She was close last year. She’s been a state-placer every year she has been in high school, and she’s a super hard worker. She was the best 800 meter in Class 4A. There’s no question about that.”
For his part, the Texas A&M signee Dixon has been even more dominant this season. He has the fastest 800 (1:51.66) and 400 (47.07) times in the classification this year, and his 800 time is the fastest in Georgia and one of the tops in the country. Those facts lead Spinks to put forth a simple strategy for Dixon at the state championships.
“He basically just has to execute,” Spinks said. “Nobody is within a second of him in the 400, or within two seconds of him in the 800, so if he just runs his plan, stays confident, then he will be just fine.”
Before this season, the 1600 meters served as Dixon’s second event over the 400. That was not surprising, considering the success he has had in cross country. However, since focusing more on the 400, Dixon has become an elite 400 runner, and he has also gotten better in the 800. The change and the success makes sense to Spinks, who says Dixon is getting a taste of what he likely will be asked to do once he enters college later this year.
“The 400 is really, really good training-wise for the 800,” Spinks said. “The 800 takes a great deal of foot speed, which Devin does have, and so the 400 is a great training ground for that.
“It’s also probably much closer to what he’s going to be doing at Texas A&M. He’ll probably be a 400 and 800 guy at Texas A&M, versus an 800 and 1600, cross country guy here in high school.”
While Dixon will be running against America’s best collegiate runners next season, Jackson will be looking to follow in Dixon’s footsteps and become the second Golden Eagle track and field athlete under Spinks to repeat as a state champion.
“She can win again,” Spinks said of what Jackson can accomplish in her senior year. “She’s turned into the leader of our team, and the team made some great strides this year. We were really, really young and she did a great job leading them. So, I think that she can do it again next year.”
Some of those young Lady Golden Eagles include freshman 800-meter runner Sophie Fabre, who finished sixth at state, sophomore Tizhane Brooks, who finished seventh in the 400 meters at state, and fellow sophomore Iylana Helenese, who narrowly missed qualifying for the state finals in the 100-meter hurdles.
Jackson, Fabre, and Brooks, along with junior Dahlia Ward, were a part of the Eagle’s Landing 4×400-meter relay team that finished fifth at state. Showing that the Eagle’s Landing boys program has up-and-coming talent in its pipeline as well, one runner who will be running alongside Dixon in Jefferson this week is fellow Golden Eagle and 800-meter state qualifier, freshman Antaures Jackson.
One cannot help but assume that the success that Dixon and Jackson has had over the last several seasons has spurred, and will spur, current and future Eagle’s Landing runners and students to strive for greatness. This is something Spinks agrees with.
“Both of them have been great examples, not just for our team, but for the rest of our school,” he said. “They both carry themselves really, really well as student-athletes. They’re successful in both track and cross country, and in the classroom. You can tell by the way they’re received by the rest of the school. Both of them are just super, super, all-around student-athletes.”