Shortly after joining the Dublin Coffman boys track and field program as a freshman in 2017, Jameel Williamson's potential was obvious to coach Kathryn Slaven.

The question at that time was whether Williamson was ready to "buy into the science" of becoming a great runner.

Looking back, Williamson admits that he, too, wasn't sure what direction he'd take when it came to competing.

"I just remember at a young age that I wasn't good at sports or anything," he said. "Freshman year, I was hanging with the bad kids in Dublin, not really the good influences. Me and my brothers were close, but we didn't talk about sports or anything. ... It's been a really crazy story, but it's been all about hard work."

Williamson wasn't able to compete on the track as a senior, as the spring sports season was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

A standout sprinter, he had competed at the Division I state outdoor meet each of the past two seasons. He closed his prep career at the state indoor meet March 7 at SPIRE Institute in Geneva, finishing 13th in the 200 meters (22.43 seconds) and 16th in the 60 (7.19) and running the anchor leg on the sixth-place 1,600 relay that included seniors Michael Ching and Alex Dediu and junior Isaac Hoadley (3:26.03).

"Jameel has a unique ability to both pump people up and help them relax at the same time," Slaven said. "He's hyper-focused before a race, but always manages to wish the other runners good luck and he's the first one to hug his competition at the end of the race. He's constantly cheering on his teammates during workouts and if someone stops or sits down, he'll always reach out his hand to help them back up and say, 'You've got this.' "

Williamson has four older brothers who attended Coffman, including Ibn, a 2017 graduate who Jameel joined on the 800 relay that placed eighth at the regional meet in their only prep season together, and Bilal, a 2014 graduate who played football and ran track.

As a sophomore, Jameel Williamson ran on the 1,600 relay that placed fifth (3:20.69) at state and was on both the 400 and 800 relays that competed at regional.

Earlier in that school year, on the football field, he endured one of his biggest challenges.

"The head football coach, (Mark) Crabtree, didn't start me and it really bothered me," Williamson said. "After my sophomore year, I started going to Coffman at 5 o'clock every day, really working hard. My junior year, I ended up getting the school record (in the 400) and started in football."

Last spring at the state outdoor meet, Williamson finished sixth in the 400 (48.82) and ran on the 11th-place 800 relay with Ching and 2019 graduates Josh Page and Dustin Drye (1:26.68) as Coffman tied Mount Vernon and Solon for seventh (18 points) behind champion Pickerington Central (87).

He followed that by helping the football team go 10-3, earn its 11th consecutive playoff berth and reach the Division I, Region 2 final for the second year in a row.

A 5-foot-10, 170-pound wide receiver, Williamson had 34 receptions as a junior and had 36 catches for 540 yards, 160 yards rushing and 232 yards on kickoff returns while totaling eight touchdowns last season.

In February, Williamson signed to play for a rebuilding Akron football team that went 0-12 last season under first-year coach Tom Arth. The Zips haven't had a winning season since 2015.

"Akron didn't really have a good football season last year, but they had a whole new coaching staff," said Williamson, who plans to major in software engineering. "I went to their game against Kent State and it didn't seem like they had any electric speed on the field. I talked to their wide receivers coach (Bryan Gasser) and he agreed with me and thinks I can bring a lot of speed to the (Mid-American Conference). I have faith in the new coaching staff."

Williamson, who has continued to run whenever possible this spring to stay in shape, also is open to possibly being a walk-on with Akron's track program.

"He always felt like he had to run as fast as he could all of the time, keep up with the seniors during practice, etc.," Slaven said. "Once we got him to understand the rationale behind different types of workouts, his whole mindset and performance changed. He became obsessed with hitting his target times at practice and started to ask a lot of questions about why we were doing certain things and how those workouts were helping him reach specific goals.

"When everyone else had gone home, he was still working on blocks, watching the tape and trying just one more time to get it perfect. He never complained about a workout, no matter how hot it was or how tired he felt. He just showed up every day and put in the work and it really paid off. It was so rewarding as a coach to see him reach the podium at the state meet last year because we all knew how hard he had worked for it."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek