One of the first things Dixon sprinter Reid Deets tackled at practice Thursday evening was block work.
His explosiveness out of the starting blocks could be the difference in precious hundredths of a second and, in turn, a trip to Charleston next week.
But to get to this point, Deets first had to get back into the blocks.
A junior in his first year at Dixon High School and Whiteside Area Career Center, Deets spent the bulk of the season academically ineligible, under the watchful eye – at least the peripheral – of boys head coach Bruce Luther.
Luther, who taught at Dixon before the current school year, teaches criminal justice at WACC. He sympathized with Deets' position, considering an ill communication regarding whether absences at Whiteside would see Deets' grades docked during the Dixon teacher's strike.
The bottom line, however?
"I don't think he realized how much education can affect the whole sport thing," Luther said.
He made it clear to Deets that, should he fail, he wouldn't be able to play soccer this fall. Luther stood by him, as did the rest of the Whiteside staff.
"A lot of people went to bat for him," Luther said, noting that even Whiteside director Kim Purvis stood in Deets' corner. "All the teachers over there, as well as the teachers here were in his corner."
"[Coach Luther] was always on my back the whole time I was ineligible, checking my grades every day," Deets said. "He said to talk to him if there were any problems. But it just came down to me having to work my butt off to try to get [my grades] up."
He succeeded and, as a result, Deets burst onto the scene during Friday night's Northern Illinois Big 12 West meet, placing third in both the 100 (11.24, 2-hundredths of a second off the state cut) and the 200 (23.02, 48-hundredths away).
"I knew my track team needed me," Deets said. "When I came back, I just tried to go as hard as possible."
Unbeknownest members of the media didn't see the performance coming.
"That's how everybody in the conference felt Friday," distance coach Kel Bond said before joining his team for a training run. "It made us feel good."
Sprint coach Jason LaMendola calls having Deets in the fold "a blessing," and says he appreciates the hard-working attitude he displayed.
"His attitude is probably his most important attribute, and I have confidence that he'll make it by place in the 200," LaMendola said. "In the 100, he's gonna be close. But I believe he can do it."
Minutes later, LaMendola was poring over pictures of Deets coming out of the blocks, explaining that he needed to get his arms tighter immediately, rather than fire out his elbows while exploding from the set position.
"I have to clear my mind in order to run faster," Deets said. "Exploding out of the blocks is more mental than physical. You have to think about how much you're going to come out of it, versus just standing up and running."
Remembering the process, but not overthinking it, is where LaMendola and repetition come in.
"The more I tell him, and the more he practices it, the less he has to think about it," the coach said.
Deets says he loves his team, and the mutual feeling was confirmed upon his return.
"We really like him," sprinter and hurdler JD Gieson said. "He's a talented athlete, and he's got good character. He livens us up. At least he made it back for the meets that matter most."
Luther relishes Deets' improvement in the classroom and on the track as a triumph for all parties involved.
"It could've been real easy for us to say we'd had it with him and just say, 'Go away,'" Luther said. "But we wouldn't let him down. That's the key thing: Today, a lot of times, people won't support other people and say, 'If it's not easy, we don't wanna deal with you.'
"He's realized we care, and he's returned his appreciation with his effort."
Deets knows his debt is still outstanding.
"Coach said, 'You'd better not disappoint me,'" Deets said. "That's why it would mean a lot to make it to state."