Recorder file photo Amsterdam's Izaiah Brown competes in the high jump during a 2014 meet in the town of Amsterdam.
By MICHAEL KELLY
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- This winter, the Izaiah Brown Show offered its first bad episode in quite some time.
Tears in his eyes and pain gnawing at his legs, the Amsterdam High School junior had to be helped onto the podium at Cornell University's Barton Hall following his turn in the 300-meter dash, only it was to stand on the structure as a prop for someone else's first-place moment at the indoor track and field state championships.
And, that came right after he had to watch the Rams' 4x400-meter relay team -- his team -- struggle in the finals without him, as his tired legs had failed to let him join his teammates for his customary jaw-dropping anchor leg that has won AHS so many races the past couple seasons.
After those races, he blamed himself, questioning if he had worked hard enough to stay atop his perch as one of the state's top runners. Brown's puffy face and slumped shoulders made it clear that his words were more than just talk.
For once, he had truly been beaten up on the track.
Don't expect that to happen again.
Brown won't let it.
"Right now," said AHS head coach Kevin Wilary earlier this week, "he's in top form and top shape."
The AHS junior enters Friday's and Saturday's outdoor track and field state championships as the No. 1 seed in the 400-meter dash, an event in which he has emerged as the overwhelming favorite to defend his state title, and he will get to serve as the anchor for a relay team that has the chance to become the first AHS foursome to win a state title.
So, to say that Brown has responded to the poor ending of his winter season with a stellar spring is to credit him while downplaying what has transpired in the past two months. In the spring's outdoor season, Brown has set multiple school and meet records, led the Rams to the program's first-ever sectional title and recorded a 45-3 mark in his events. All three losses came while working as part of a relay, leaving Brown with a perfect 34-0 mark this spring in individual events.
"He's responded," Wilary said.
Ironically, it might be the defeats that speak the most to Brown's dominance this spring. One loss came in a relay in which Brown's squad did not finish because it botched a handoff; the second defeat came in a high jump relay, in which he scored the day's best overall jump as an individual; and, the third loss came in a 4x400-meter relay in which Brown recorded a split of 45.7 seconds -- only the fastest known time in the nation this season.
"He's doing so much better and he's so much more motivated than he was last year," said AHS sophomore teammate Edgar Maldonado. "He really wants to win it this year, especially after the 45-seconds split he ran. His mentality is so much better this year."
Maldonado has been a key figure for Brown this spring. An alternate for the AHS relay -- juniors Andrew Druziak, David Graveley and senior Julian Gallup join Brown in the relay's core group -- Maldonado has been the one pushing Brown in the weight room, helping to get the junior stronger. After Brown's winter season ended in an injury all parties involved credited to exhaustion, the junior consistently took part in special workouts Maldonado ran this spring, as Brown, for the first time, went beyond the normal lifting required of AHS team members.
Various Rams join in for the workouts at different times, with Brown, sophomore Gabe Fernandez -- the team's other alternate -- and Graveley making up the main trio that join Maldonado for the extra sessions in the weight room.
The workouts are not complex. Using various exercises to hit all of the core muscle groups, the athletes attack their bodies with weights light enough to crank out three sets of 25 repetitions, all at a quick tempo.
"It pushes your body to the limit -- and, then, you do another set," Maldonado said.
While each of the workout buddies has improved this season, the difference is likely most noticeable in Brown. He is no longer gangly, and the muscles in his arms pop when he pumps them as he runs.
"I definitely feel stronger," said Brown. "I know that when I'm out there, I don't feel super exhausted, like I was at states during indoor."
Maldonado was the one charged with trying to save Brown's day at the state championships. When the junior said his legs did not feel right early on during the competition, it was Maldonado who spent his day working to try to stretch out Brown's legs.
The sophomore has kept that job this spring. As personal as it is for Brown to do well at this weekend's state championships, one gets the sense Maldonado has more than a passing interest in how his teammate fares at Cicero-North Syracuse High School's track and field venue.
"I'm trying to get him so he's at his peak," Maldonado said.
It is hard to say if Brown is near his peak right now. Unlike in past seasons, Brown has been methodical in his consistency with his 400-meter dashes; he started the season with a mark of 47.8 seconds, went above 50.0 his next time out, and has been better than 50.0 the rest of the way.
"Last year, running against the competition in this area, sometimes he'd run a 50-something and still win by a whole bunch," said Wilary. "This season, he's really focused better on every race to run a fast time. I mean, he ran 47s in [league] meets, which we didn't see him do last year."
Like usual, the problem for Brown this season has been a lack of competition. His closest victory in the 400-meter dash came with a margin of 1.41 seconds, and his presence in the event at larger meets often seemed to clear the field of any potential serious rivals.
That, or the 2014 season has had more than its fair share of coincidences.
The trend of non-competition for Brown in his signature event appears to have followed him to the state championships. The top potential foes for Brown -- Mount Vernon's Rai Benjamin and Boys and Girls' Richard Rose -- are not in this weekend's field. Instead, Benjamin will compete in the 400-meter hurdles and 4x100-meter relay, while Rose is a mystery non-participant, his coach referring questions about his omission to the school's athletic director, who did not return calls Wednesday.
That leaves Brown as the top seed with a mark of 47.64 seconds, 0.70 seconds clear of Lynbrook junior Luke Germankos, the event's No. 2 seed. Brown's ability to hit another gear when pushed has been well documented, making it seem likely this weekend's 400-meter dashes -- he will compete Friday for a public school championship and Saturday for a federation title -- could end with Brown ahead enough to slow up for his final 20 or 30 meters.
If he does, that will not be the worst thing for Brown. While a second consecutive title in his solo event will put him in elite company, the junior said his focus is on his turn with the Rams' relay squad.
While the AHS relay squad is not a one-man show, it is no secret that Brown is what makes it special. His ability is one thing, but the confidence that comes from knowing he is the club's anchor gives the first three runners the extra pep that makes them special; when Brown missed the championship run at indoor states, each of Druziak, Gallup and Graveley ran a slower individual time than in the preliminaries when Brown was anchoring.
"The thing I love about this team is that they feed off each other and want to get better," said Wilary. "They're all going out there to each run a fast time because they know if they can keep it close, we have someone at the end that will take it home."
The AHS foursome enters states as the No. 5 seed with a time of 3 minutes, 20.31 seconds -- well within range of No. 1 Warwick Valley's time of 3 minutes, 18.41 seconds.
The difference in those times means Brown will likely have the chance to close his high school season at full speed, looking to pick off opposing runners from a deficit to deliver AHS a victory. It is a sight known well to Section II athletes and spectators, and Brown has the chance to familiarize a statewide audience with it this weekend.
In the process, Brown can exorcise both demons from his otherwise flawless AHS career. C-NS was the site where he hurt himself as a freshman at the state championships, an injury which cost him a state title, but it is the leftover emotional wound from this winter's indoor experience that has the junior truly motivated to flip the script.
"I want to prove to myself that I was just in a slump," said Brown. "I want to go out there and show that."
So, stay tuned -- the star of the Izaiah Brown Show says this year's finale is set to be a good one.
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