It wasn't that long ago that track was simply something to do for DJ Ware, but now it is something that is taking him places.
"I realized when I started beating everyone by a lot that I could be pretty good," Ware said. "Then I got more serious." And his opponents started falling to the way side.
He became the Kyrene School District 100-meter and 200-meter champion after winning the city meet for Centennial Middle School.
The success has continued this summer as the Ahwatukee Foothills speedster did well enough in the Arizona state Junior Olympics track meet at Mesa Community College over the weekend to advance to the Junior Olympics regionals (July 7-10) in Albuquerque, N.M., on July 7.
If he does well in regionals it could mean Ware, 14, is on his way to the Junior Olympic Nationals (July 26-31) in Wichita, Kan.
He ran a personal best time of 11.27 seconds in the 100-meter dash preliminaries, breaking his previous best of 11.30, and then won the meet in the finals with a time of 11.38. His preliminary time was just .04 seconds off the all-time Arizona record for his age group.
On a national scale, Ware's time stacks up with the best. According to youth track site www.eliteyouth.com, which collects and ranks times from Junior Olympic and AAU meets across the nation, Ware's 11.27 would rank 21st out of more than 3,000 athletes who have run the 100 this year in his age group.
Ware was also part of the 4x100 relay team that advanced to the regionals with a time of 46.39 seconds.
Regardless of how he does in New Mexico, Ware is assured of competing in the USATF Age Group National Meet, which is June 28-July 3 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
"I am excited about the chance to compete against the best," Ware said. "I do better when the competition is tougher."
Ware, who is an incoming freshman at Mountain Pointe, is a 5-foot-9, 140-pounder who just started to figure out that he could be pretty good in track, but his dad knew it early on.
"I could tell when he was younger that he had a good burst," said Derek, his father and former NFL tight end. "But that was just when he was messing around playing pickup ball with the neighborhood kids so it was hard to tell how fast he really was. But then when he started competing in track this year he really took off."
The success in middle school led to a more serious approach and soon he was running with the Arizona Cheetahs club team to try and get him to the next level.
The younger Ware has seen his time in the 100 steadily drop. He ran an 11.64 in a Junior Olympic meet in April and has gotten much faster in the two months since. He's also run a personal best of 23.23 in the 200 as well as anchoring the state champion relay team.
"Regardless of how he does, getting the opportunity to compete nationally at a young age is only going to make him better," said Derek, who played five seasons in the NFL, including his first three years (1992-94) with the Cardinals. "I am not sure how good of an athlete he is going to be yet, but he has the speed needed to be successful."
The younger Ware also plays tackle football where he is a running back and defensive end. He expects to continue playing both sports once he starts walking the halls at Mountain Pointe.
"High school is going to be exciting," he said. "I don't know what to expect, but I know it is a lot harder. I am ready to see how it goes."
He credits his dad and Cheetahs assistant coach Eric Richardson for getting him to this point and giving him the confidence to compete against the nation's best over the next month.
"I know I can be pretty good," Ware said. "They helped me realize that if I wanted to get better I couldn't just show up. I was going to have to work at it in practice and be ready for competition."
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