Faster is better. Jorge Quero can't stress this enough.
"For the high school athlete looking to play a collegiate sport, faster is always going to be better," explains Quero, who has been track and field coach at Foothill High for six years. "Baseball, football, basketball -- all of these sports want speed, but they don't teach their players how to get faster."
The answer, says Quero, is track, the unsung hero of high school sports. Quero believes track is an underutilized key to reaching the lofty goals these high school athletes envision for themselves.
"The clubs like Ballistic and Rage, they teach the best athletes how to play soccer. But the college coaches, they want to know who is fast," he says. "College coaches know how to teach skills to their players, but they don't have time to teach speed. The kids who are fast? College will make them good players."
The techniques Quero engrains in his athletes have been around for many years, basic building blocks for creating a strong foundation in almost any sport. But other sports don't focus on posture and correct running form, little things, Queros says, that make the difference between being good and becoming exceptional.
It's not just the sprinters who benefit.
"In track and field, we teach how to move correctly, how to jump higher, how to improve reaction time," Quero notes. "If you move faster than the other guy on the soccer field, you're ahead. If you can jump higher than the other guys on the court, you're ahead. If you're the first off the line in football, you get more yards. You have three seconds to get from first to second base or you're out. Track can teach you that kind of speed."
Quero points to Griffith Gates, a 2013 Foothill graduate now playing football for the University of Pennsylvania, as an example of a good athlete using track to improve during his primary sport's off season.
"Griff is playing his freshman year of college football in a position he's never played in high school. Because he's athletic, the (University of Pennsylvania coaches) knew Griff would learn to play any position. But because he came out in the spring and worked to develop his skills, he got fast and that's what those coaches were looking for."
Gates agrees that his seasons of training with the track team gave him an edge in the college playing field.
"Speed is everything in college," Gates says, echoing his former coach's mantra. "College football is completely different from high school football. At U Penn, I watch some of the other freshmen struggling to learn the techniques they are teaching -- things I understand because of track."
Gates began training with Quero in the spring of his junior year, after a summer of football evaluations convinced him that more time on the gridiron simply wasn't going to help improve the areas that were holding him back.
"They told me I was too tight, I couldn't move my hips, I needed more flexibility," Gates recalls. "I had a great mental grasp of the game, but I needed more speed."
All those "problems" had solutions built right into the track program.
"Running track made me stretch, got me flexible, and built explosiveness for getting off the line and making those first few seconds count," says Gates. "No other sport can do that without risking injury. Basketball is physical, I tore a ligament playing baseball, I dislocated my shoulder wrestling. Track is low risk."
Quero agrees with this assessment, pointing out that much of what is taught and practiced in the track program actually helps to prevent injuries in other sports.
"When you learn the correct form, when you learn to stretch correctly, and when you don't allow yourself to get out of shape sitting around playing video games, you're going to go back to soccer, or football or basketball better prepared to play," he says.
And faster, of course. Faster made the difference for Haley Lucas, a graduating senior who credits her time on the track as a primary reason she will be playing soccer for UC Berkeley next year.
"Speed was definitely important in the recruiting process," Lucas emphasizes. "They liked my fitness and athleticism. Track keeps me in shape, it's the perfect way to cross train."
A true athlete who qualified for multiple North Coast Section events during each of the first three years of her high school career, Lucas sees track as a natural draw for anyone with a competitive nature.
"I love to run, I love the races. It's an individual sport; it's all about challenging yourself to get better throughout the season. When you're out there it's just you, your lane and the clock," she says.
Across town at Amador Valley, coach Peter Scarpelli expands on Lucas' assessment, noting that while track will definitely develop skills and speed, its life lessons are what ultimately make track valuable to athletes.
"I am certainly a proponent of continuing growth in strength and speed; every coach is looking for speed. But what I tell people is track teaches self-reliance."
Scarpelli points out that team sports allow players to take a play off, hide behind others, find excuses for why things went wrong. But in track and field, it's all about the individual's performance, just like in the real world.
"Every day you have to get up and decide how you're going to perform," Scarpelli says. "Are you going to give 100% or are you going to give excuses? You either get the job done, or you let life affect you during practice and on game day. When you put yourself out there for everyone to judge, that takes courage."
Scarpelli coaches perhaps a dozen athletes who have the potential to play a sport at the collegiate level, and track is what keeps them committed to staying in shape.
"Only a couple of athletes at the most elite level are known for arduous training off-season," he observes. "Kids and families have great intentions, thinking they will train themselves, but it's hard to be a self starter."
He finds it frustrating, too, to see high school athletes working with private trainers when so much is available to them right on campus.
"I see people spending a lot of money on personal trainers," Scarpelli says, "when track and field offers so much more. You will certainly get faster, you may find a hidden talent, you get to represent your school while gaining all these skills, plus learn life lessons that will benefit you long after your athletic career is over."
Quero agrees, pointing out that life as an athlete reaches the finish line long before most young people realize.
"If you're lucky you get to play college sports after high school. After college, only a few sports offer opportunities to continue as professional athletes and any individual's chances of getting to that point are so small. And most of those athletes are going to be done by their 30s. There's a lot of living left after that."
Which is why, Quero says, college has to come before the sport. He's speaking from experience, having turned down the opportunity to play professional soccer for Mexico, choosing instead to earn a degree in mechanical engineering. Not willing to give up his life as an athlete, Quero joined the Monterrey Institute of Technology's track team expecting his talent to be welcomed.
"I was the fastest kid in Mexico City. Everyone told me I was great. I thought I was great," he remembers. "After five days of tryouts, I realized I was one of the slowest there. I made the team, but I was 20th on the team. That's what happens in college. That's why you have to keep ahead."
Both high school coaches understand that many of their athletes use track as a cross training tool, and they welcome the opportunity to help them realize their full potential. Quero is sometimes frustrated by the resistance he feels from coaches of other sports, as though training with the track team could hamper an athlete's future, though Haley Lucas, Griffith Gates and plenty of other collegiate athletes who embraced track have proved otherwise.
"I don't believe we are competing for an athlete's time, I believe we are working together to help an athlete realize their full potential," Quero says.
Conflicts with other sports will always be worked out, he assures.
"We just want to teach them what they need to be as good as they can be, as fast as they can be, in whatever sport they choose."
Because faster is always better.
Fast Facts: Track and Field
* Foothill High School Coach: Jorge Quero
* Amador Valley High School Coach: Peter Scarpelli
* Track has something for everyone. There is more to track than just sprinting and jumping hurdles. Other events include shot put, pole vault, long jump, triple jump and discus.
* Besides regular season league meets, track and field athletes can participate in East Bay Athletic League (EBAL) Championships, North Coast Section (NCS) Championships, Meet of Champions and State Meet, depending upon qualifying times.
* This year's track season officially begins Feb. 10; any preseason workouts prior to that are not mandatory. All athletes planning to participate in Track and Field need to complete their school's sports packet, including a sports physical, before that date. Athletes may not participate in practice until they are cleared by the school.