The good ones “empty the tank” every once a while.
The great one “empty the tank” every time out.
Anybody watching Valley High’s Jake Merrell run Saturday knew they were watching a great one.
Merrell signed his name to Texas high school track and Texas Panhandle history Saturday adding more accolades to his already eye-opening state track legacy.
Merrell won the Class 1A 800-meter dash, the 1600-meter run and turned around 27 minutes later anchoring Valley’s winning 1600 Relay in a 1A state record time of 3:25.49.
The three gold medals upped Merrell’s medal haul at state for his career to nine gold medals, one silver medal, and playing a major role in back-to-back state team titles.
And, he did it in style, with his long, smooth stride and dominating wins bring fans to their feet for the loudest applause of athlete during the 1A-4A afternoon meet at Mike A. Myers Stadium
“Honestly, I didn’t see myself being this successful,” I could never dream anything like this. I’m extremely blessed and extremely grateful for the everybody supporting me and believing in me.”
Merrell opened the day seeking to become the first-ever Texas Panhandle runner to break one minute and 50 seconds in the 800-meters.
Merrell went out in 53 seconds and finished with a blistering time of 1:51.71, winning by eight seconds over Priddy’s Chandler Hurst.
Although personally disappointed in not breaking 1:50, Merrell’s time in the Austin humidity and heat was worthy of serious praise.
“It’s awesome to get run against somebody like that,” Hurst said. “He could end up in the Olympics and I can say I ran against somebody who was in the Olympics.
Merrell’s time was the fourth fastest in Panhandle history, set the 1A state meet record, and meant Merrell ends his career having run the first, second and fourth fastest 800s in Texas Panhandle history.
He also joined a very short list of Texas high school track athletes by winning the 800 four years in a row starting out a freshman in 2015.
“I thought it was a good race,” Merrell said. “I didn’t break 1:50 and reach my goal and I really wanted that. But you can’t really be mad when you hear that (winning four consecutive 800 state gold medals). I was blessed to come down every year and be healthy and defend my title. I’m blessed.”
He was also exhausted after the 800 literally laying on the ground for 10 minutes near the medals stand to catch his breath.
With the his 1600 race looming, Merrell spent an hour in his parents car recovering out of the heat.
In the 1600 he ran a tactically race hanging in second and third for the majority of the four laps, then sprinted the final 300 meters much to the delight of the crowd winning in 4:24.19, two seconds off his own state record.
Twenty-seven minutes later he was anchoring Valley’s state-record setting 1600 Relay team (3:25.49) running a sub 50 400 as the anchor.
“I just walked took my shoes off after the 1600,” Merrell said. “Taking my shoes off always relaxes me a little bit. But I couldn’t escape the heat. I really didn’t have a lot of water. They walked us in about 10 minutes before the 1600 Relay so I sat down and tried to stay mentally focused.
“After those first three legs, the boys putting it on the line that, there was no pushing the clutch for me. The cherry on top of the whole meet was breaking the record in the 1600 Relay with the boys. That was extremely fun.”
After watching Jake Merrell run Saturday, there is no doubting him being tagged as one of the greatest long distance runners in Texas Panhandle history.
But some who know him best already knew that.
“Jake amazes me all the time,” said Valley coach Brandon Smith. “And he’s such a team guy. He’s so humble and works so hard. That’s what makes him great.”
And what a great day to end a career that might never be matched.
“This day was extremely eventful for me, I am extremely blessed to be here,” Merrell said. “Yes I did hear the crowd. It’s tremendous to me to have an impact on these people. I’m not saying they come here to watch me, but to hear them supporting me and cheering me. I wanted to come out here and put on a show for them.”
And that show left with an empty tank for three races.