At one point in his track and field career, Ryan Mayberry seemed earmarked to be a top-flight distance runner.
As a Morrison eighth grader, he set school records in the 800 and 1,600 in the first year he was out for organized track. He went to the Illinois Elementary School Association state meet in both events.
As a high school athlete, however, his performances leveled off. He was a solid runner as a freshman and sophomore, but nothing too spectacular came his way.
That all changed midway through his junior year, at the Clinton Classic. Morrison head coach Scott Rickels put Mayberry in the 400, and he responded with a time just above 52 seconds.
"He was like, 'All right, you're almost at state time, so you're going to run that because you're a lot better at sprints than the long distance stuff,'" Mayberry said.
Mayberry went on to qualify for the state meet as a junior in the 400. He ran a 52.56 in the first preliminary, finishing seventh among eight runners.
During the summer of 2013, Mayberry hit the weights to better prepare himself for football season, but it was also with an eye toward becoming a more conventional sprinter when track season rolled around.
The 6-foot-3 Mayberry now packs 160 pounds on his frame, which may not seem like too much, but it is 20 pounds heavier than he was as a sophomore and a full-time distance runner. Now, he almost always stands out at the starting line, especially for the 100, which is usually filled with shorter, more powerful athletes.
"It was crazy," Mayberry said. "I was stronger than I ever was, but I was tall and lean. Those guys were just huge, and I didn't know how I stood a chance against those guys. I didn't really run the 100 that [junior] year, because they just had so much power, and I'd just get blown out of the water."
This year, Mayberry has run as a fast as a wind-aided 10.93 seconds in the 100, in the preliminaries at the Three Rivers Meet. That blazing time was due in part to a fast start out of the blocks, an area in which he readily admits is not his strong suit.
With his height, it takes Mayberry a while to get going, and he often finds himself playing catch-up. He didn't train to be a sprinter until last summer, putting himself at a disadvantage.
"I think if I would have lifted more and did more legwork, that would have definitely helped my start a lot," Mayberry said. "It's hard for me to get out quick."
Rickels has seen improvement in that area, however, and it's just a matter of gaining experience.
"Most of it is just repetition, getting used to doing the same thing over and over, and then just being patient for the gun," Rickels said.
Mayberry has run as fast as 22.42 in the 200, and 50.49 in the 400. He'll run all three sprints at the state meet preliminaries on Thursday in Charleston, and while he thinks he has a fighting chance to make the finals in all three, he noted the 400 is likely his best shot.
His long strides, as well as endurance left over from his days as a distance runner, make that his best race.
"The shorter guys, when they run the 400, they have to take a lot more steps than I do," Mayberry said.
One of those shorter guys is Newman's Brady Rude, a powerfully-built sophomore who fits the traditional mold of a sprinter. He's been the gold standard among small-school sprinters in the area this season, and Mayberry has been right there with him.
At the Three Rivers Meet, Rude won the 100 and 200 by a combined .06 of a second.
"We both like to push each other," Mayberry said. "Sometimes I'll get out, and I'll be ahead of him, and he'll play catch-up and pass me at the end. Or he'll be ahead of me, and I'll have to catch up to him. I think we both push each other to run our best times."
FYI: Former distance runner is now top sprinter for Mustangs. ... State qualifier in the 100, 200 and 400 dashes. ... Will attend college at Western Illinois University (Moline campus) this fall