Marquette Wire

SCHMIDT: Looks can deceive

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EricSchmidtThere are some important things you need to know about Tyler O’Brien before the track and field season kicks off Friday at Notre Dame.

First of all, he’s really, really fast. The junior speed demon holds the school records for three indoor events, the outdoor 200-meter and as a member of the 4×100-meter relay team. His time of 10.55 in the 100-meter is the second fastest in Marquette history, topped only by former Olympian and world record holder Ralph Metcalfe. He’s been a high school state champion, a dominant Big East performer and a USA Junior Outdoor Track and Field Championships qualifier. He’ll probably go down as the best sprinter in school history.

Oh, and one more thing. Tyler O’Brien is white.

His appearance is so unassuming that he might as well be see-through. O’Brien is a smidge under six-foot and wouldn’t crack 170 pounds even if he stashed a couple shot puts in his pocket. His hair is bright orange, his skin is whiter than a piece of chalk and he talks slow like he’s got nowhere to go. But he runs likes his shorts are on fire. He’s the track and field version of Tim Lincecum, only instead of having a cannon for an arm, O’Brien was blessed with a golden set of wheels.

Based on his every-man physical features, you would never guess that O’Brien is one of the fastest moving humans in college sports, and that’s what makes him so damn cool. Common logic says that a short white guy can’t possibly outrun some of the finest athletes in the country, but O’Brien doesn’t really like to adhere to stereotypes; he likes to wave at them as he passes them on the way to the winner’s circle.

“In high school, people didn’t really take me seriously,” O’Brien said. “I was kind of a joke to the other sprinters.”

Back when O’Brien was attending Rocky Hill High in Connecticut, he was an eight-time all-Conference performer and the 400-meter State Open Champion as a senior. Then he got recruited to run at Marquette and went on to record the two most prodigious seasons in school history.

His opponents called him a joke? I wonder who’s laughing now.

“To have the success I’ve had, it’s a complete rush,” O’Brien said. “It’s empowering to beat people who are bigger and more athletic than you are.”

The acute sports fan can most likely name only one white sprinter of merit —  former Baylor star Jeremy Wariner, who was the 400-meter Olympic Champion in Athens and the runner-up in Beijing. In today’s world, even the best white athletes rarely occupy a position that requires elite speed and explosive athleticism. With a few exceptions, the majority of white professional football players are linemen, basketball players are centers and track and field participants are distance runners or shot putters. And then there’s Tyler O’Brien.

He’s an aberration of huge proportions and a little engine that could. His genetics say he can’t but his legs and heart say he can.

Despite the many triumphs that have already befallen Marquette this year and the surprisingly stellar play of the men’s basketball team, I guarantee that O’Brien will end up being the story of 2010. He’s history in the making, and he’s definitely ready to smoke some fools on the black tar. His expectations for the upcoming season are simple.

“I’m just going to run really fast,” O’Brien said.  “I want to easily make the finals at the Big East Championships. I’m going to give it my all individually and hopefully that will help the team.”

Seriously, you would be wasting your tuition money if you didn’t go see this guy run at least once this year. And Friday is as good a day as any. But if you do go watch him, I have a suggestion: Don’t blink. You might miss him.

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