By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
WARREN -- A year ago, Tjawonkher Davis was a much different sprinter.
For one thing, he wasn't Tjawonkher Davis; he was Tjawonkher Putnam. (He took his father's last name last summer).
And he didn't work very hard.
"I was what you call a slacker," the Warren Harding junior sprinter said.
And he didn't have anyone to push him.
Then Rob Massucci transferred from Lakeview to Warren Harding last summer. Davis finally had a challenge.
"He's my buddy," Davis said of Massucci. "Coach [Dan Reardon] tried to push me last year but it wasn't until [Massucci] came over that I got better."
The two form arguably the best sprinting duo on arguably the best sprinting team in the area.
The fastest sprinters
Davis owns the area's best times in both the 100- (10.7) and 200-meter (22.0) dashes, although Massucci usually wins the 200. They're also part of the area's fastest 4x100 relay.
"He helps me a lot," Massucci, a junior, said of Davis. "Having someone as good as 'Wonk' really makes a difference. I push him, he pushes me and hopefully we'll push each other all the way to state."
Both advanced to the regional last year. Neither made it to state.
Davis said he was "a little afraid" of the competition at the regional and let it psych him out. Massucci had the second-best time in Division II in the 100 and the third best in the 200 entering the regional, but "ran a bad race on a bad day," he said.
"A lot of track is mental," he added. "You can easily psych yourself out. You can't let anything affect how you run; you just have to concentrate on whatever race you're in at that time."
Looking to football
Massucci transferred to Warren Harding mainly for football -- "track ends right around the time that football practice begins," he said -- and because the Raiders were Division I.
"I think it was a great rivalry initially," Warren Harding sprint coach Robert Andrews said. "Then they bonded and that brought a lot of positive results. They started motivating each other and that brought the best out of both of them."
Massucci wants to make it to state. Davis wants to make it, and win it, in either the 100 or the 200.
"A lot of it's in my head," Davis said. "I can picture myself doing it, but I understand that I'll lose some races. I just have to learn from my mistakes. Rob drives me to run my best and if I see that he beats me, I get mad at myself because I know I can run harder."
Lima Senior's Kendall Stevens, who graduated, won both the 100 and 200 at state last year, running 10.79 in the 100 finals (he ran 10.62 in the preliminaries) and 21.76 in the 200.
Assets and potential
"Rob has the great work ethic and Tjawonkher has the unlimited potential," said Andrews. "It wouldn't be surprising to seem them side-by-side preparing to run at state."
Andrews was a three-time state sprinting qualifier who graduated from Mansfield Senior in 1985. He got there on hard work, he said, not talent.
"Great runners have to work hard to reach the next level," Andrews said. "I don't have to give them pep talks anymore. It started as a roller-coaster ride, but when you put everything together, the road smooths out."
A lot can happen in the next three weeks, but the road ahead looks pretty smooth. But if they hit a bump, they'll have time to recover.
After all, they still have next year.