Two things you would have learned watching Streator High sprinter Aneefy Ford at the IHSA Boys Track and Field State Finals late last month in Charleston:
1). He’s really fast
... and ...
2). He’s really competitive.
The first would have been apparent from the Bulldogs junior’s fourth-place finish in the Class 2A 100-meter dash with a time of 10.82 seconds.
The latter would have been made clear from Ford’s less than enthusiastic reaction after scoring his school’s highest finish at the IHSA State Finals in more than a decade and his immediate use of that fourth-place sprint – 0.12 seconds behind state champion Chris Nelson of Herrin – as motivation for his senior season still to come.
“He was really disappointed he didn’t finish first,” Streator boys track and field coach Ken Carlson said. “I came over and gave him a hug, and he started crying. He was like, ‘I was so close, Coach,’ and I said, ‘You’re only a junior. You’ve got another year.’ ”
Although a state championship eluded Ford his junior season, the 2022 Times Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year won or contributed to plenty of other top finishes.
After winning the 60- and 200-meter dashes at a preseason indoor meet hosted by Reed-Custer, Ford placed second in the 60 and won the 200 at the St. Ambrose Indoor Invitational. He qualified for but didn’t place as high as he envisioned in the Illinois Prep Top Times Meet – commonly thought of as Illinois’ unofficial indoor state meet – and then started to find his stride as the outdoor season got underway.
That included a third-place finish just ahead of senior teammate and fellow sprints standout Cade Stevens in a loaded 100 at Hall’s historic Rolle Morris Invitational, with the two swapping spots when Stevens placed third and Ford fourth in the 200.
Ford and Stevens’ competitiveness with each other – when they weren’t teaming up on Streator’s state-qualifying 4x100 relay team, that is – helped fuel both to new heights. Stevens’ lightning-fast starts complemented Ford’s flat-out top speed well, making both better sprinters as the season carried on.
“Cade was No. 1 out of the block every time,” Ford said. “If I could stay even with him [in the early going], then I knew I could win the race. I don’t know how I’m going to do next year without having someone as good as him out of the blocks. Next year I just have to work on that more and more and more.”
Ford was runner-up in both the 100 and 200 at Mendota’s Gooden Lite Invite, won the 100 and 200 – both just ahead of runner-up Stevens – in the Illinois Central Eight Conference Meet, then ran to a sectional championship in the 100 at the Class 2A Plano Sectional on May 20. The 10.59-second finish qualified Ford for the 2A State Finals, with the Bulldogs ace also qualifying as the anchor of the aforementioned 4x100 team along with Stevens, Collin Jeffries and Quentin Goforth.
“[The 2021 season] was kind of a lost year for him,” Carlson said. “He messed up his foot or ankle in football, and it took him awhile to get going, and he just didn’t have a very good year. We started doing speed sessions for this season maybe back in December, and he was there at most of them and kept working at it.
“It seemed like after he qualified for the Prep Top Times Meet, he really got after it and did a bunch of great things. ... I could tell he really wanted to do well and was really focused from there on out.”
Shifting his focus from weight training to rest during track season also made a big difference, Ford believes.
“At the beginning of the track season, I was doing a lot of working out [with weights], working out every day after track practice, and I was always really tired at the beginning of the season,” Ford said. “My first meet I ran [the 100-meter dash in] 11.5 [seconds], and I was talking with [Carlson] after that first meet, and I said I didn’t think I’d make it this year, but next year for sure.
“Before my next meet he told me to stop working out [so much with weights], to get more rest. And I guess that’s what worked for me, just getting enough rest.
“I wanted to win [a state championship this year], but that didn’t happen. Now I’ve got a year to prepare.
“I don’t have a doubt in my mind that I can win it.”