Sierra sprinter Thomas finds inner confidence with new mentor

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Photo - Sierra High School senior Dante Thomas is proving he has speed after finishing with the fastest time in 100 meters at the last 3A meet.
Carol Lawrence, The Gazette
Sierra High School senior Dante Thomas is proving he has speed after finishing with the fastest time in 100 meters at the last 3A meet. Carol Lawrence, The Gazette

All along, Dante Thomas had the talent to contend for the title of fastest prep sprinter.

Now, he has the swagger, thanks to a new coach who knows a thing or two about speed.

"In sprinting, it's about cockiness," said Stallions first-year assistant track coach Bill Valentine, a 1997 Harrison graduate who once turned in a time of 10.5 seconds in the 100-meter dash while running for Dakota Wesleyan University. "I tell him that he's got to be a cocky athlete, not a cocky person but cocky of your own abilities. That's him. He's not rude about it. Right now, he's putting in some good times and has applied that from practice to races."

At last year's 4A state meet, Thomas clocked a time of 11.29 seconds but didn't qualify for the finals.

Since being introduced to Valentine, the junior has broken the 11-second barrier regularly. His time of 10.92 seconds March 18 at the Panther Invitational at Harrison Memorial Stadium ranks as the fastest among 3A boys' runners in Colorado and seventh nationally, just .10 seconds from the top.

And Thomas can't thank Valentine enough for getting him in the right frame of mind.

"Coach is always on my back and pushes me to my limits, and he knows what he's talking about," Thomas said. "He tells me about being cocky. Sometimes you have to walk in a guy's face and say "I'm going to beat you.' It can be cockiness or confidence, but coach has helped my confidence level and kept me motivated."

Thomas is also taking the fast track to academic success by cramming four years of schoolwork into three, which means he'll graduate in May, a year ahead of schedule.

"I decided to take that path during my freshman year," Thomas said. "I got here by working hard, and I want this to take me to college. I'd like to get a degree in sports medicine and maybe a master's so I can become a physical therapist. And maybe by the 2020 Olympics, I can prove something else."

But first, he has short-term goals, set by Valentine.

"I think we can get him down to 10.7," Valentine said. "He's been putting in the time, so now we're working on the little things to make that happen. He's easy to coach."

Thanks to Valentine, Thomas isn't bashful about his objectives on the track.

"It's going to be a tough season," Thomas said. "I feel like I can take state and prove myself as a great runner in the sport I love. Every time I step on the track, I look down and see nothing but a door opening, and I know I will get there first."

If that happens in May, he'll become Sierra's first boys' track champion since 2009, when hurdler and jumper Kelby Dias claimed the last of his nine individual titles to end a spectacular career.