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Prep track: Flowery Branch's Van takes aim at four state titles
Flowery Branch High Senior Norvell Vann prepares for the state track meet beginning Thursday in Jefferson. Vann will be competing in the 110-hurdles, 300-hurdles, pole vault, and the 4x400 relay. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times


Norvell Van talks about competing in four events in the state track meet.

FLOWERY BRANCH—Norvell Van has found his calling as an athlete.

After this Flowery Branch High senior track star takes part in the 110-meter hurdles, 300-hurdles, 4x400 relay and pole vault this weekend at the boys state meet at Jefferson Memorial Stadium, it’s not going to be the end of his athletic career.

He hopes his athletic journey is just beginning.

Van has committed to becoming a decathlete at Morehouse College in Atlanta next year.

“In doing my college search, I knew I wanted to go to a HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities),” Van said. “I know Morehouse has a tradition of producing good leaders, so it will take a good balance to participate in sports and make good grades.”

Van, who plans to major in either biology or chemistry in college, originally contacted Morehouse to learn about the school. His cousin attended the school and studied medicine and law, before doing post-graduate studies at Duke.

The Region 7-AAA champion in the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles started a line of communication with Morehouse coaches after his brother told athletes from the school about his interest in running track and field with the Maroon Tigers.

This hopeful state champion knows committing to being a decathlete is a grueling endeavour. He knows everything is going to change with his training when he gets to Morehouse.

Each decathlete must commit to five disciplines to take part in for each meet. Van plans on staying with his strengths; the 110 hurdles, pole vault, 100 and 200 run.

Van, who was region runner-up in the pole vault and 4x400 relay, said Morehouse coaches say he could also excel in the shot put and discus, even though he’s never competed in those events. He’s also got to get back into the swing of things learning the ropes of the triple jump, high jump, long jump and 1600 meter.

“To be a decathlete you have to be really good in all the events,” Van added. “The coaches from Morehouse came to me and said I’d make a perfect candidate to be a decathlete.”

But it won’t just be the new disciplines Van is going to have to learn. He’ll also have to conform to the new dimensions of the events in college. The 300 hurdles becomes the 400 hurdles in college. The height of the hurdles goes from 39 inches in high school up to 46 in college.

“Norvell is very talented athletically,” Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells said. “He’s good at watching someone perform and then mimic what he sees.”

Despite all the challenges that await Van as a future decathlete at a Division II school, he’s excited about the new world that is quickly approaching.

Van is going to spend the summer months running with Club Nitro to stay in peak physical condition. He also plans to take either tae kwon do, ballet or gymnastics classes to increase his flexibility.

Van’s participation in track and field isn’t just a journey for self-fulfillment. It’s also his way of living up to what he says is God-given ability.

“God has blessed me with an ability, and I don’t want to neglect it and let it go to waste,” Van said. “My mom taught me that God giveth and God taketh away.”

After an eighth-place finish in state last season in the 110 hurdles Van has shown his eagerness to  absorb knowledge from those willing to help him become better.

When Sorrells took over the program this season he noticed Van, his only hurdler, didn’t count his steps out of the starting blocks.

“I noticed he wasn’t counting his steps,” Sorrells said. “You need to take eight steps before you reach the first hurdle.”

As a result of the helpful pointers, Van has set a personal best in each meet this season.

With Van’s speed, he is the final leg of the 4x400 relay team with Scott Chilton, Tavious Banks and Maurice Riden. Chilton says the primary goal of the first three legs is to keep the race close.

“We know if we’re close and give it (the baton) to him, we’ll probably be able to win,” Chilton said.

His same precision for detail applies to the pole vault. Van, a state placer in the pole vault last season, turned to watching others on YouTube to see what he could take in from watching some of the best.

“For me, pole vault is the toughest event,” Van said. “You have to keep your arm straight, rock upside down, buckle your bottom arm, and then fly back.”

His training for the state meet is a fine balance of time. Van puts both his individual events and team event on an even playing field with a limited amount of time in practice with his teammates.

He wants to leave the state meet with a couple of ribbons around his neck, and help the Falcons stack up points for a run at the Class AAA state title.

“I really want big things for him as a senior,” Sorrells said.