A year away from track hasn’t slowed Burnett
A year away from running hasn’t been a deterrent for Oxford sophomore James Burnett. The long, lanky Charger has been burning up the track in the 400-meter dash this spring, helping his team garner title after title in the process.
He most recently finished second to Canton’s Devie Freeman in the MHSAA Class 5A North Half meet with a time of 49.6 seconds.
The time, and the finish, is impressive considering that Burnett, who last ran on the track when he was in middle school, is really more of a mid-distance runner by trade.
“It’s been a real amazing season for me just because this is my first year running high school track and I only had three meets in middle school,” said Burnett, who had to warm to the idea of being in the 400 when he was first approached by coach Chris Bush. “To be honest, the first time he told me I was running the 400, I did not want to do it. I told him I didn’t want to run it. Then I ran the 400 at indoor and my time was pretty good. I just fell in love with it since then.”
Much like a parent has to coax a child into trying something new, Bush had to convince Burnett that he could be a good 400 runner. Bush, who holds the OHS record in the 400 and ran the event at Ole Miss, said he saw the potential in Burnett almost immediately.
“Last year he tried out for the team as a distance runner. He never knew that he would be a 400 runner, but when I looked at him, I saw his stride and his height and felt like this guy would make a pretty good 400 runner. He’s been developing well for sure,” Bush said. “The last runner we had here to go 49 seconds in the 400 was Jermondae Brassell, but he only went 49.9 his senior year. James has made a lot of strides as a 10th grader for sure.”
Ever since the indoor meet, Burnett’s times have dropped, substantially. That first race he ran 53 and outside of one meet this year, everything else has been a personal record (pr). His latest finish, while not his goal of first, made him feel confident heading into Monday’s 5A state meet at Pearl.
“I just grabbed Coach (Chris) Patton. I was so happy,” Burnett said about his latest finish. “Coach Bush has been telling me all season that this was going to be my biggest competition. I will see (Freeman) next week. I’m going to put in the work at practice and I’m going to try my best. And take a lot of ice baths.”
Bush ended up losing a jacket due to where Burnett ended up finishing this past weekend.
“I told him that if he pr’d again and his time dropped, he could get that jacket. I gave it to him after the meet,” Bush said with a laugh. “He ran 53 indoor in his first 400 race. Then he dropped to 52, 50 and now 49. You can’t be upset about a pr and taking second, that’s outstanding for a guy who is really and truly in his first year of running.
“My first year in the 400, I was 49.3. Then every year after that I started dropping. I won state with a 48.8 and I believe that he will be able to do that same program and by me being a 400 runner and having gone to college for it, I’m going to be able to help him get there.”
The 400, as an event, is one of the toughest, Burnett and Bush both said, because of how an athlete has to take it on.
“It’s so hard. What a lot of people don’t do right is you’re sprinting the whole track. It’s not as easy as it looks to do. It’s tough to sprint an entire 400 meters. That last 100, that’s the hardest part,” Burnett said.
Better times are just one of the ways a runner can show improvement. The other is the way one trains in practice, an area that Bush said Burnett has really started to pick up.
“He’s grasping that concept better and better everyday. He is a hard worker and we’re going to make him into an even harder worker next year. As the rest of his body has adjusted, he has become a very good work-out athlete as well as a performer,” Bush said. “He’s also not one of those guys that gets in the blocks and worries about who is next to him. That doesn’t matter to him, they have to beat him on that day. That kind of competitive attitude is going to take him a long way.”
The record time of 48.3 that Bush set when he was in high school seven years ago still sits on the top of the board at OHS. Burnett looked at the number shortly after his latest race, and talked about what breaking the record would mean to him.
“It’s honoring that (Bush) picked me to run the 400 because he expects so much out of me, even with this being my first year to run high school track,” Burnett said. “Everyone on the track team thinks I can break that record by my senior year. I’ve got some time.”
“If there was ever a guy that’s going to come through and break my record, it’s probably going to be James Burnett,” Bush added.
In the future, Burnett is expecting to add the 800 – his first event – back to his resume.
“Coach Bush told me that it would be good for me to run the 800 because of my long legs and my experience. I can alternate between that and the 400,” Burnett said. “The stamina from the 800 that I used to do, that just makes me a better 400 runner.”
Burnett, who used to play basketball before putting all his attention in track, made sure to recognize his mom, Melinda Burnett, in the stands after his race.
“She loves to watch me run. She’s up there under that umbrella,” he said, pointing her out. “She waved at me right after my 400. She is supportive of me and my dad is, too.”
Burnett and the Chargers, who finished fourth or better in the 5A North Half meet, will return to action Monday at the state meet.