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H-F senior Nelson Speaks aiming for repeat as state champs 

Nelson Speaks is more confident this spring, both in himself and in his team. The Homewood-Flossmoor senior has good reason to be.

The Vikings boys track squad is the returning team state champion. Individually, Speaks last season placed in Charleston in the 400-meter dash (fifth) and with the 1,600-meter relay team (third). He’s ready to do even more.

Homewood-Flossmoor senior Nelson Speaks has big goals for both himself and the Vikings boys track team this spring.
(David P. Funk/H-F Chronicle)

“This year, it’s first or something went wrong. That’s really how we look at it,” he said. “Runner-up or third place, that’s not going to feel right to me. We have to capture that because I know we have the pieces. I think we’re even stronger than last year. It’s state title or nothing with me, really.” 

Speaks plans to do his part.

His personal bests so far put him among the fastest sprinters in the state. They include a 48.5-second 400-meter dash over the summer, a 23.07-second 200-meter dash and a 3:24.05 time with his 1,600-meter relay teammates Myles Ellis, Joaquin Jordan and DeAndre Lane. 

“The biggest goal, first and foremost, is to recapture the state title,” Speaks said. “Individually, I’m trying to be the 400 state champion and lead my (1,600 relay team) to a first place at state.” 

Titles are more important to Speaks than times, he said. As a senior, he said he’s trying to be more of a leader. That means speaking up a little more often, trying to set a good example for younger athletes and letting them know what a state championship team looks and feels like. 

Part of that, he said, is sacrifice. 

“Having the feeling of winning it last year, the team title was more important to me than the individual,” he said. “If I don’t win my own but we capture a team title, I’ll be OK with that.” 

The indoor season wasn’t what he wanted for himself. Speaks aimed to break 50 seconds in the 400 but never quite got there, peaking at 50.1 seconds. He said he and the Vikings coaches expected better. 

His training is aimed at improving the first 200 meters of that race. As a junior, he said he was worried about not being able to finish races strong so he held back at the start. That won’t be the case this spring. 

“There’s no reason to really take it conservative because me and my coaches believe I can be the state champion this year,” Speaks said. “We just rolling. There’s no holding back.” 

Speaks feels good as the outdoor season begins. He’s still trying to wrap his head around being the guy everybody at the line is trying to beat, though. 

“At this time last year, I wasn’t even Illinois top 20. First meet (this season), I’m Illinois No. 1. I got a lot of weight on my shoulders,” he said. “It changes everything with people watching me warm up, people watching me compete. I know they’re watching.”

He’s not the only one in red and white being watched. 

The sprinters, as a whole, carried the Vikings to the state championship last spring. Most of that group is back, and the teammates added don’t lack ability.

“First meet, people were already talking about it,” Speaks said. “If we get second place, people are like ‘What happened? What went wrong?’ We got a big target on our back, in general.” 

Last year’s H-F sprinters called themselves an “8-man army.” The entirety of the scoring at the state meet came from 100, 200, 400 and the short relays. 

This year, Speaks said the Vikings don’t need so much from so few to do big things. The team is deeper in other places and capable of scoring in multiple events.

“We know you can win a state title with eight people, but we just want 10, 12 people to just bring their 50% and if we all do that, it’s going to equal up to 100,” Speaks said. “That’s all we need to get the job done.”

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