Cahokia High School boys track and field coach Leroy Millsap will be the first to admit that he's been blessed with strong, agile and fast athletes who have helped the Comanches win four state titles in seven years.
But the 2013 Comanches are a unique group.
"These kids are true track and field athletes. They are students of the sport,'' Millsap said last week. "We don't have to get on them at all. They know what's expected of them and what it takes to get ready for their events. They come to practice to work and get ready for late May.''
Late May has been very kind to the Comanches in recent years. The most successful athletic program in Southern Illinois with seven top three state final performances in the last eight years, the Comanches open the outdoor track season as the odds-on favorite for a third straight state title.
Among the 35 to 40 thinclads in the program are seniors Chris Moore, Darren Payton and Trey Story, juniors Marlon Brady, Gary Hickman, Mike Monigan and Jalon Monigan as well as highly-touted freshmen Ja' Mari Ward, Cornelius Moore, Tyran Lyons and Chris Mcgee.
"Our numbers are good. We had some kids who we used to fill in on some of the relays last year who didn't come back out. But we've got enough kids to where we'll find somebody," Millsap said. "I see kids everyday in the halls at school who could really help us. But they've either heard that we work too hard or they just don't want to come out.
"The kids we have are willing to work and we're not going to lower our standards to just get more kids in the program."
Cahokia has been in the top three in the Class 2A state meet every year since the Illinois High School Association went to the three-class system five years ago. Cahokia placed second in Class 2A in both 2009 and 2010.
The Comanches also won back-to-back Class AA state crowns in 2006 and 2007.
Leading the quest to three-peat will be Chris Moore and Payton. Moore was fifth in the long jump and second in the triple jump and along with Payton is a leader on the 2013 Cahokia squad.
"Chris is a great kid and I would think that him and Ja'Mari (Ward) we have a chance to score a few points in the two jumps. We'll also run him in one of the relays -- probably the 4x200.''
Payton, who had the top Class 2A time in the state in the 800 meters at 1 minute, 57.2 seconds heading into the IHSA State Indoor Meet on Saturday in Bloomington, placed a disappointing fifth in the state finals last year.
"For some reason Darren changed his strategy in the state final last year. He had been a frontrunner all year but he decided to stay back in the final. He got boxed in and the other guys beat him in the end,'' Millsap said. "Hopefully he's learned his lesson. I think he has.''
Story will lead the way for Cahokia in the sprints and will run in the 100 and 200 meters along with probably the 4x100 and 4x200 meter relays.
"Trey looks fantastic,'' Millsap said. "He's one of those kids who worked hard in the weight room and is much stronger this season."
Brady is the defending state champion in the 400 meters and along with Payton and the Monigan's will give Cahokia perhaps the best 4x800 meter relay team in the state.
The quartet has already run a time of 8:03 indoors.
"Marlon is Marlon. Just a great kid," Millsap said. "He'll be ready when it comes time in May.''
Millsap is also very high on four or five athletes in the freshman class. But in Ward, an AAU National champion, Millsap could have one of his best athletes.
Ward has already jumped 23 feet 2 inches in the long jump and 46 feet 7 inches in the triple jump.
To put into perspective, Ward's 23-2 jump was 11 inches longer then the Class 2A state champion a year ago and the 46-7 effort in the triple jump would have placed him third in the state last year.
"Ja'Mari comes from a great family and he has a great work ethic. He wants to be the best,'' Millsap said. "I think he could go 24 feet in the long jump this year and I'm looking at 47 feet in the triple jump. Although he thinks he can go 48 feet.''
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or firstname.lastname@example.org