CHARLOTTE – Track and field is a family affair for Charlotte Latin sprinter DeMarkes Stradford, although he’s making a push to be the best of the bunch.
Stradford has always enjoyed track and field. He said it’s most likely due to his family’s long and very successful history in the sport.
“Track kind of runs in my family,” he said. “My mom ran at App State and I have a cousin, Shawn Crawford, who ran in the Olympics. So it’s sort of a family thing, but I really like it because it keeps my speed and endurance up and helps me run faster for football.”
Stradford’s mom, Alice Stradford, was known as Alice Vinson in the mid-1990s when she excelled at Appalachian State. Vinson won indoor national championships in the 55-meter dash and in the long jump. She also won outdoor national titles in the 100 and in the long jump all during the 1994 season. Vinson is also on the 4×200 relay that still holds the Mountaineer school record, which was set in 1993.
Crawford is no slouch either, winning a gold medal in the 2004 Summer Olympics and a silver medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics while competing in the 200.
Stradford runs the 200 as well, and excels as the runner-up in that event at the NCISAA championship this season.
But it’s the 100 where Stradford really shines.
He came into this track season with his athletic and academic career already in pretty good shape.
Last spring he committed to Harvard to continue his illustrious football career. He was a two-time state champion on the gridiron, but played in the title game each year. And most seasons, he was one of the biggest reasons why Latin was there in the first place.
This season, Stradford ran for 2,137 yards and added 284 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns, leading the Hawks past Country Day for the NCISAA Division II title.
For his career, Stradford ran for 5,361 yards and totaled 5,992 total yards of offense and a whopping 72 touchdowns.
But Harvard was for more than just football. Stradford, who raised his grade-point average from around a 3.5 to a 3.9 this school year, has career dreams after he hangs up his spikes.
“Harvard had a family feeling, and I’ve really connected with the players that are already there,” he said. “Also, in terms of academics, I’ve always wanted to be an engineer and Harvard was a great choice because MIT is right in the area and I’ll be able to take joint classes at both schools. I did it for football, but the academics pushed it over the top because if football doesn’t last, I’ll still have the degree and that education.”
As Stradford entered this outdoor track season, he was pretty set. He was already a two-time state champion in the 100, but he wanted one more shot to add to his resume.
“I was looking forward to finishing on a high note because I set very high expectations for myself,” he said. “As soon as I figured out what I could do over the last several years, I wanted to reach the top and epitomize my career while going out on top.”
Stradford trained all season under former Latin and North Carolina star Malai Walker and said she was a big influence on his season and running career.
This year, they followed a rigid training regimen with the goal to peak at the end of the season.
“His work ethic was unmatched,” Walker said. “Any time I had any kind of directive he would use it. He has this ability to learn and to execute with precision. You can’t even put into words what kind of athlete he is, and he has the ability to totally lock in and execute when he needs to. That totally sets him apart from his competitors.”
And as the end-of-season races started to heat up, so too did Stradford.
At the CISAA meet, he said once he crossed the finish line, there was a huge commotion coming from the Latin coaches and, in particular, from Walker.
“When I crossed the finish line, coach Malai was going crazy and I was wondering what just happened,” he said. “She told me I had just ran a 10.13 and I was extremely shocked, but at the same time I thought about that being representative of all of the work and all of the sweat that I’ve put in during practice.”
For those who don’t know, 10.13 seconds is fast. Very fast.
“He has never really had a great start in any race in his career,” Walker said. “But when I saw him come out of the blocks I knew he was going to have a great race. I saw all of the technique and all of the form – everything that we had worked on – come together and he executed it to perfection. I saw him get off to his best start ever and I was already excited and jumping up and down. I was so proud of how he executed his race, because I knew that was the best race he’d ever run no matter what the time said.”
That was the top time in North Carolina and the third-fastest time in the nation.
However, a broken sensor on the timing company’s equipment caused all of the 100 runners’ times to be adjusted. Stradford’s was reset to 10.44 seconds, still the fastest he’d ever run the event, the fifth-fastest time in the state this season and tied for 53rd-best in the country.
“I still ran a PR of 10.44,” he said. “I’m pretty upset they changed it, but I’m happy no matter how it turned out. It meant a lot because the 100 is my favorite race. I wanted to end on a high note, and I think I did. It’s really nice to be able to put in that effort and get out the results that I did.”
And he wasn’t done.
Stradford would go on to win his third-straight 100-meter championship, finish second in the 200 and earn the South Charlotte Weekly Boys’ Track and Field Athlete of the Year for the second consecutive season.
Harvard sprint coach Marc Mangiacotti and head coach Jason Saretsky have told Stradford he’s more than welcome to walk on the track team and compete in some events.
“I won’t be heavily involved with practices and things, but I talked to the coaches about maybe running some meets,” he said. “I’d love to because I love track so much. It would be a great way to keep in shape for football and fun for me to continue running.”
As Stradford looks back on two state football championships and his five individual track championships, which include three titles in the 100, the 2017 200 championship and a 4×200 relay title during the 2015 season, he said there’s nothing but joy.
“I came to Charlotte Latin from Marvin Ridge during my freshman year,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but once I got acclimated I loved it. I’ve had a great time here. This year, I wanted to really work on the technicalities and focus on improving every day in practice. I think I did that and I focused on everything that I needed to to be able to run a perfect race.
“I’m really happy with everything I’ve been able to do here and am especially to end it the way it did.”