Kordell Williams, as DeMatha Catholic High School track coach Leon Snyder tells it, didn’t feel like running.
It was a hot day last spring, and there had been a long delay between Williams’ first event (110-meter hurdles) and his second (300-meter hurdles). The meet wasn’t necessarily an important one, and Williams just wanted to take a break.
“I kind of just went off on him a little bit,” Snyder said. “I guess I call it motivation.”
Snyder believes every race gives an athlete a chance to work on something. He didn’t expect Williams to win or even necessarily do well by his standards, but the coach wanted Williams to compete.
Well, not only did Williams compete, he ran his best time of the season.
“He came back and was like, ‘You got me, coach, you got me,’” Snyder said.
Williams, now a junior, has established himself as one of the area’s top hurdlers. At Saturday’s Montgomery Invitational, he finished the 55-meter hurdles in 7.75 seconds, a time that would have placed second in last year’s Class 4A state meet.
It’s around this time every season — including that hot day last spring — that Williams begins to hit his stride after typically slower starts.
“He’s like, I guess a steam engine,” Snyder said. “It just takes a little time to get going. But once he gets into that groove … ”
Snyder trails off.
Before hearing a full explanation of Snyder’s theory, Williams interjects with an explanation of why he gets going when he does.
“I get tired of losing,” Williams said.
When does the turning point come?
“When you’re not getting first all the time,” Williams said. “I’ve got to get firsts. That’s my motivation. That’s why I like running track, because of the fame and getting firsts.
“When I first started, I really wasn’t that good, but I put in the work. It grew on me when you start winning. It feels good.”
When Williams joined the DeMatha track team, he was part of a hurdling corps that included mostly upperclassmen. The best lesson they taught him: “Just keep pushing. Don’t get scared. Never back down.”
But Williams lost sight of that message during the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship meet last spring. Another hurdler bumped Williams across the mid-section, and with his rhythm thrown off, Williams knocked over a hurdle.
“It shook me, because I usually never get hit,” Williams said. “Yeah, I stopped. I was real mad.”
Williams called the moment motivation, taking a more pragmatic approach than using the incident as a psychological reminder.
“I had to get bigger. I had to get stronger,” Williams said. “I had to learn how to go through it. If somebody hits you, you’ve got to keep going.”
Williams believed he could have won those 110 hurdles, and he finished fourth in the 300 hurdles later in the day to help DeMatha win the conference title. He says his favorite experience at DeMatha is still his team’s championship, and he celebrated without regret.
But his next goal is celebrating individual and team success simultaneously, winning the hurdles and DeMatha winning another WCAC crown.
“That’s the right spot,” Williams said. “That’s what I’m looking for.”