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Boys Athlete of the Week: Gainesville's Orrin Ragland

Red Elephants junior won three events at Hall County track and field championships

POSTED: March 17, 2014 8:39 p.m.

Orrin Ragland shrugged off a nagging early-season injury to enjoy one of the best track and field performances of his career.

The Gainesville junior took first place in the triple jump, 100-meter dash and 200 dash at the Hall County championships on Friday, setting personal records in all three events.

His performance helped fuel the Red Elephant boys’ second straight Hall County title, as they piled up 176.9 points for the team victory.

For his efforts, Ragland is The Times’ Boys Athlete of the Week.

“It was my first meet fully healthy,” Ragland said. “I felt pretty good after a week of recovery, with icing and stretching.”

Ragland has been hampered by a groin injury throughout the early track season, but finally felt healthy enough for a three-event day Friday at Flowery Branch High.

Defending his 2013 county title triple jump was no problem. His 43-foot, 5-inch leap was more than two feet ahead of runner-up Cameron Drake, Ragland’s teammate.

The sprinting events didn’t come quite as easy, thanks to East Hall’s Jacques Ash. Ragland’s 11.49 time in the 100 was three-tenths of second faster than Ash, and his 200 time of 23.42 was just 0.24 seconds ahead of Ash.

“We’ve babied him, making sure he’s icing and stretching and so forth,” Gainesville boys track coach Nick Niesielowski said. “He’s finally healthy.”

Now that the rust is shaken off, Ragland is trending upward.

He reached sectionals in the triple jump last year, but fell short of qualifying for state after placing 12th with a 41-5.5. He’s already shattered that mark — much to his surprise — and currently sits second in Region 8-AAAAA in the event.

“I thought it was a bad jump, honestly,” Ragland said, of his Friday jump. “When I got the results and it was a 43-5, I was astonished.”

With seven Hall County titles over the past two seasons, Ragland has established himself as a premier two-sport athlete at Gainesville.

As a wide receiver on the Red Elephants’ football team, Ragland caught 21 passes for 318 yards and seven touchdowns in a pass-heavy offense built around quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is now at Clemson. He also served on the kick return unit.

Niesielowski says Ragland’s track involvement will only help his football ambitions, which include pursuing a scholarship to the University of Alabama-Birmingham in his hometown.

“If he goes to a Division II school, he’d do really well,” Niesielowski said. “He’s getting close to that 10-second mark. If we can get him there, he’s going to have more looks at the Division I level and could easily be that dual athlete.”

Ragland’s dual-sport success has helped attract more football players to the track, including fellow wide receiver Rodney Lackey and running back Michael Byrd. Niesielowski expects to see more receivers, running backs and defensive backs join the team in the future.

“I speak to them about the benefit of running, and if you run track, you’re going to get faster,” Niesielowski said. “A lot of these college football coaches are looking for the guys that can run a 10-second 100. If they’re not running that 4.3 or 4.4 (40-yard dash), what else are they going to do to get down? You have to run track.”

That’s where Ragland’s immediate goals rest. He wants to crack 11 seconds in the 100 and 22 seconds in the 200.

He’s already satisfied with his personal record in the triple jump, but he still has room to improve if he wants to compete for a state title. Last year’s Class AAAAA Georgia Olympics winner jumped 47-0.5.

Right now, Ragland is just happy to be injury-free. And the current Hall County champion in three events.

“It feels great,” he said.


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