NORTON - They have the fastest feet in the Commonwealth and two of the most powerful bursts of energy coming out of the starting blocks in the state. Record-holders in their own rights, they have set the pace for indoor track this winter at both, Norton High School and Bishop Feehan High School.
Norton High's record-setting senior sprinter Abu Ceesay is ranked No. 1 in the state in the 55 meter dash (6.47 seconds) and No. 2 in the state in the 300 meter dash (34.84). Meanwhile, Bishop Feehan High's record-setting senior sprinter Anthony Delasanta is ranked No. 2 in the state in the 55 dash (6.56 seconds) and No. 1 in the state in the 300 meter dash (34.83).
On Saturday at the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston, the Lancer and the Shamrock will take the starting line to run against each other in both events at the MIAA State Championship Meet.
"How cool is that,?" beamed Norton High coach Kent Taylor of Ceesay, the Tri-Valley League's MVP going against Delasanta, the best in his events in the Eastern Athletic Conference.
"You see each of them at meets and they're always cheering each other, they respect each other so much," said Bishop Feehan High coach Brian Kirkland.
In truth, Ceesay and Delasanta have run against one another just twice. The latest was three weeks ago at the MSTCA Elite Meet, also at the Reggie Lewis Center in the 300 dash, with the Shamrock then clocking the best time in the state this indoor season at 35.03 seconds, nipping the Lancer (35.32), which was then the second fastest time.
The first time was two years ago, also at the same MSTCA Elite Meet in the 300, the duo colliding coming into the break - Delasanta not finishing the race.
And true to form, both Ceesay and Delasanta have been testing timing apparatus of all sorts and turning the heads of collegiate scouts. Ceesay has verbally committed to the University of Central Florida and Delasanta has verbally committed to the University of Rhode Island.
Ceesay is the MIAA Division 4 Meet champion in both the 55 meter dash (6.47) and the 300 (34.84), leading the Lancers to their first-ever indoor team title.
Delasanta is the MIAA Division 3 Meet champion in both the 55 dash (6.59) and the 300 (34.87), the Shamrocks taking home their respective divisional crown as well.
"This is not only pretty cool, but something special," said Kirkland, presiding over a Delasanta workout on Tuesday. Delasanta, a resident of Franklin, has been nurtured in the sprints by current Shamrock assistant Jason Brown, while also having come under the guidance of track gurus Bob L'Homme, Latif Thomas and Paul Powell.
"Abu is such a humble kid too," Taylor said of the special needs student with Ceesay being hearing impaired and requiring the aid of a translator (Sharon Hollis) for both his academic and athletic pursuits. "Abu is always the first one to say that, 'Even though track is an individual sport, I want to do this for the team.' "
Because Ceesay is deaf, he has special needs for track meets too. Taylor received approval from the MIAA and MSTCA for a strobe light which the Lancer runner can see at the start of a dash since he is unable to hear a starter's gun.
"His block work was inconsequential last year, he'd be the last one coming out of the blocks because he was visually watching everyone, but then he would still finish second or third," said Taylor, who has been his mentor.
Taylor sought the approval from MIAA and MSTCA administrator Charlie Butterfield for an external light system, an external box with a strobe light to signal Ceesay of the starter's gun.
The other matter is that Taylor requests that Ceesay not be in lane No. 6 for the start of races, so as not to be distracted by people on the rail and also to conserve his energy if there were to be a false start.
"In the past, he'd be halfway down the track and I would have to step out onto it to stop him," said Taylor, who has Hollis by his side at all of the practices and meets as well.
"She says that I took too fast," said Taylor of the instruction. Ceesay also runs the anchor leg for the Lancers' No. 1-ranked 4x200 relay team.
If all goes well with Ceesay, along with Lancer sprinter supreme Justin Ireland, abd middle distance runner and high jumper Cam Cleathero, Norton could be the little school along Route 123 that wins an MIAA state title.
"Abu is so much better than he was than last year, but not by much," said Taylor. "There's only so much better that you can get at this level, but Abu has put his work in. The maturity level that he's at, it's so hard to do."
Ceesay's performances have also attracted the attention of the U.S. Deaf Olympics Track organization and the Lancer will also be in the starting blocks for the New Balance National Meet March 11-13 at The Armory in New York City.
"We've worked a lot on the little things," added Taylor of the leg and arm motion, the leans, race strategy, "which all add up to him being the track athlete that he is."
Delasanta has endured the same sacrifices and toll.
"He's a very self-driven student-athlete, no external motivation is needed," said Kirkland. "He's looking to improve in each meet, he always believes that he has more in the tank (he lowered his time in the 300 by two seconds just this season). He's such a great athlete. He lives and breathes track, he's one of a kind.'
Delasanta actually tried to run cross country as a freshman, but L'Homme, the Shamrock distance coach, took one look and immediately channeled him into track. Similarly, the Shamrock football staff caught wind of Delasanta's running with the wind, but he admits to not having the best of hands.
Kirkland is not sure if he will enter Delasanta as a member of the Shamrocks' 4x200 or 4x400 relay team, his presence enabling Bishop Feehan to be a sure medal-taker and point-taker, such that the Shamrocks and Lancers could both be contending for the MIAA State Meet team championship.
Ceesay and Delasanta ran their sets of 200 and 400 sprints in practice this winter break week, worked on their motion coming out of blocks, worked on the baton exchanges with the relay teams.
"I know that I would not be where I am as a track-athlete were it not for Latif Thomas," said Delasanta of the former North Attleboro High track great and assistant coach. "I owe 90 percent of what I've done to him, how I run has been all manufactured by him. He taught me how to be an athlete."
Delasanta and Ceesay both have similar habits and styles for running the 55 and 300.
"I want to get out of the blocks fast, but not be the first one," said Delasanta of his strategy in the 55 meters. "I don't want to be the first person to get to 30 meters. I'm a long sprinter so that when I get up to speed I'll pass everyone.
"In the 300, some people go for it, I kind of pace myself. You can blast the first 100 and then hang on. I try to float a bit."
Neither Ceesay nor Delasanta try to hide their mutual admiration.
"Abu has a translator and she (Hollis) tells me what he's saying, but he's so good at reading lips that we understand one another.
"I remember that first race that we had against one another two years ago, we got to the break at the same time and our legs tangled up. So sure there's always some anxiety when you're running against Abu.
"But if there is anybody that I'd be fine with losing to, it's him," continued Delasanta. "He's been through hell (having a loss of hearing), but we know the sacrifices that each of us has made to get to where we're at, to these races. I know that we'll both give it our all."