Like many freshmen hoping to make a name for themselves, Jermarrion Stewart didn't know exactly what to expect in his first season as a member of the Collinsville varsity track and field program last spring.
The Kahoks are traditionally a middle-of-the-pack competitor in the Southwestern Conference, competing weekly against traditional SWC powers O'Fallon and Belleville West, along with Edwardsville and East St. Louis. Edwardsville, led by seniors AJ Epenesa and Travis Anderson, along with East St. Louis placed first and second, respectively, at the 2017 Class 3A state track meet.
"It was different because I was competing against people I had seen before, but I didn't really know them. If that makes sense?" Stewart said this week. "My mindset, being a freshman, was that nobody really knows who I am and what I can do. I'm just going to go out and compete, and see what happens."
But Stewart quickly developed into one of the top Class 3A sprinters in Illinois.
After winning the 100-meter dash at the Southwestern Conference meet, Stewart won the Class 3A 100-meter championship at the Moline sectional while also achieving the qualifying time in the 400-meter at the IHSA state track meet in Charleston.
Showing his versatility after not qualifying for the 100-meter finals, Stewart went on to make the finals of the 400-meter, where he placed fifth with a time of 49.17 seconds.
"I never really considered myself a 400-meter runner. For one thing, the race always seemed so big," Stewart recalled. "I wasn't really nervous at state. I had it in my own mind that I knew what I wanted to strive for, and I just went out and did it.
"I still like the 100 meters the best. It's just fast. You just get out of the (starting) blocks and go."
Expected to battle athletes such as East St. Louis senior Jarrell Anderson in the 100-meter and the Flyers' tandem of Willie Johnson and Deonte Anderson in the 400-meter this season, Stewart competed in his first major event of the season, the Illinois Top Times Indoor Championship, last weekend in Bloomington.
Stewart placed seventh in the Class 3A 60-meter dash, finishing in a time of 7.17 seconds. He was also a "disappointing" 10th in the 200-meter with time of 23.27 seconds.
"It wasn't very good," Stewart said of his performance. "We've got some work to do. The goal is to win a state title this year. It's within my reach. I just need to continue to work hard and keep training everyday.
"One of the good things about this conference is that we have great track athletes here. I'll get pushed every time I compete, and I believe that kind of competition can only make me better and faster in the long run."
That type of attitude by his standout sprinter is exactly what Kahoks coach Darryl Frerker has seen from Stewart throughout the first year of his career.
"Jermarrion is a very personable young man in that he listens well and then attempts to do what his coaches tell him as far as his training goes," Frerker said. "A lot of athletes who achieve success early sometimes get a little complacent. That's not the case with Jermarrion.
"I think last year gave him a chance to see what can do, and he is even more determined to have even a better sophomore season. He has some big goals he is chasing."
Off the track, Stewart is a unique individual. He does not compete in summer track and field, and unlike many athletes blessed with great speed, you won't see him running down the football field on Friday nights in the fall.
"I may go out and run a mile or two once in a while, but the summer is when I rest," Stewart said. "I like to try different things. I bowled this year for the high school team. I had never bowled before, and for my first year, I guess I did fine.
"My long-range goal is to have a profession where I am helping people lead better lives. Right now, I'm thinking I would like to be a doctor of some kind. But I have some time yet to decide."