One of the best track athletes in the history of the Rogers High School put on a show at the Class 4A state track meet this past weekend at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma.
Rogers senior Eric Simpson won individual state titles in the 110- (14.16 seconds) and 300-meter hurdles (37.78).
Simpson trailed in the finals of the 110 hurdles for the majority of the race. Cascade’s Kaleb Dotson was in the lead until the final two hurdles, as Simpson’s surge in the final 10-20 meters was the difference. Dobson clocked a 14.28, good enough for a second place finish.
“Kaleb is an amazing starter,” Simpson said. “I have raced against him a couple of times before. It was so strange because I have always said that we are opposites of each other. It always comes down to if I have a better finish, I will win that day. If Caleb has an amazing start, then he usually gets it.”
But this time — despite Dotson’s fast start — Simpson was able to make up the difference with so much on the line.
“It seemed like in the middle of the race he picked it up to another gear,” Simpson said. “I just had to leave it all out on the track on those last couple of hurdles. I didn’t catch him until the second to last hurdle and the last hurdle.”
Simpson credited Rogers head coach Danny Carlson for helping him fine-tune his form in the 110 hurdles this season.
“We noticed early in the season that I was going way too high over the hurdles and especially early on in my races,” the senior said. “We felt like we get it faster and closer over the top. It has made a really big difference.”
Carlson said Simpson’s form this season is close to perfect.
“Eric has been doing a great of job of minimizing the space between himself and top of the hurdles. A lot of times when he hits a hurdle it is his hamstring hitting it,” Carlson said. “We worked on that a lot.”
It was the second consecutive season Simpson won the Class 4A 110 hurdles title. Simpson advanced to the finals as a sophomore in 2012 but false-started in the finals, resulting in a disqualification.
“It is satisfying and makes me feel better that I may have missed out on the first one, but I got these last two,” Simpson said.
The most impressive individual performance of Simpson’s career came on the final day of the meet in the 300 hurdles finals. Simpson clocked a personal record of 37.78. He blew away the field, as second place finisher Ryan Gunther of Camas was 0.9 seconds slower than Simpson.
“It was a personal record for me by a full second,” Simpson said. “I told myself that I was going to sprint this race as hard as I possibly could all the way to the end. I’m just glad it was a great time that I ran. Once I hit the final 100 meters, I started hearing the crowd and I was thinking I just had to kick it in. It was all guts.”
Simpson said competing on the Rogers cross country team this fall helped give him the endurance he needed in order to win the 300 hurdles. In 2013, Simpson finished in sixth place and was determined to not let it happen again.
“I know for a fact that without cross country, I would had not had the strength to go that speed all the way throughout the race,” he said.
Rogers cross country head coach Ken Zentz said he invited Simpson to turn out for the team this past fall.
“Eric said he didn’t know if he could do all the miles,” Zentz said. “I just told him that we would put him on his own workout plan and help him gain endurance. He never ran a varsity race for us, but he was always working hard. Having a state champion with the cross country program really helped us a lot. I’m really proud of him. He had a plan after finishing sixth last year that he needed more endurance. That endurance really helped him today.”
Carlson said Simpson has been a joy to coach over the past three seasons.
“Eric is such a great character guy. He is always the first one to shake everybody’s hand,” Carlson said. “His love of track is unbelievable. He wants to be a track coach later in life and I believe he will be.”