MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - By now Tyler Davis is used to the confused glances and double-takes. As the Cleveland senior takes his place on the track, getting set to be the anchor leg of the 4x100 relay team, the competition gives him an odd look and he knows what they're thinking.
It's the same thing his own teammates thought when the lanky kid was assigned the job as the anchor for both sprint relays.
"He looks like a pole vaulter, not a sprinter," said fellow Blue Raiders sprinter T.J. Parker, who typically runs the third relay leg. "Honestly, I was offended when Coach said Tyler would be our anchor. I mean, he's white!
"The first time we ran he beat me, and I thought I just didn't stretch or warm up enough or was having a bad day. But then he kept beating me, and we all had to accept that he's just a fast white dude. We all just laugh now when we get to a meet and other teams say they're going to blow past us because we have a white guy at anchor. Once they see Tyler run, all you hear is, 'Man, that's a fast white kid.'"
Davis helped lead Cleveland's sprint relay to a second-place finish Friday night in the Class AAA state meet. The Blue Raiders were fourth when he took the baton for the final 100 meters, but he passed two other runners and closed the gap on first-place Houston, also nearly breaking the Raiders' school record in the process. Last week the foursome broke a 20-plus-year-old record in the 4x100 with a 42.50 at the state-qualifying meet. Friday evening, they turned in a 42.59.
Davis later finished a close second in the Class AAA 200 dash.
"When there's a race in a big meet, Tyler wants the baton in his hand, he wants that pressure," Cleveland coach Casey Phillips said. "He's one of the mentally toughest kids I've ever seen."
While his teammates and coaches joke about him being the biggest minority at the state meet -- "He's the only white guy running the anchor leg in any class," Parker joked -- Davis is still relatively new to the sport. He began running during his junior year, and admittedly then just as a way to avoid spring football practice.
"When I started I probably had the worst running form ever, but I always bury myself into whatever I'm doing, so I learned how to do it right," said Davis, who also competed in the state long jump Friday afternoon. "I think every day how much better I could be if I had run track longer. That's my biggest regret so far.
"I know that no one gives me respect before a race, and I love that. It drives me. I just want to prove that white guys can run fast, too."
While he began running to skip football practice, it was actually the football field that helped boost his confidence that he could compete at a big-time level. Last fall the 6-foot-3, 185-pound receiver set a school season record with 1,170 yards, averaging 24 yards per catch.
And after learning he was one of only 7 percent of students who applied to West Point to be accepted into this class, Davis also spoke with both the football and track coaches about continuing his athletic career in college.
"I know that will be tough with the academics and everything about that program, but people have told me things I can't do for a while and that just makes me want to prove myself even more," said Davis, who graduated with a 3.95 grade point average, scored a 30 on the ACT and hasn't made anything below an A since middle school -- and even argued with his English teacher then over the one point needed to raise his B average.
Just to stay sharp mentally, he has memorized more than 20 of his friend's cellphone numbers rather than looking in his contacts list, and he has friends throw 10-digit number sequences at him to see if he can recite them back.
"I'm just a big math nerd who likes to watch 'Game of Thrones,' 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Trivial Pursuit.' But I'm a really fast nerd."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.