Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Mill Creek's Michael Cheeks has been selected as the Daily Post's boys track and field runner of the year.
Michael Cheeks didn't even make it out of the preliminary races at the track and field state championships last year.
That was all the motivation the Mill Creek sprinter needed this season when he set the goal, a seemingly lofty one, of winning a state title his senior year.
But Cheeks fulfilled that dream in May by winning the Class AAAAAA 200-meter run state championship. It was the highlight of an impressive day that also featured Cheeks taking third in the 400, being a member of the 1,600 relay state championship team and helping the Hawks to the program's first state crown.
"It was a very big year," Cheeks said. "After my junior year, I put some great goals ahead for my senior year. I accomplished my goals."
Cheeks grew up playing football from the age of 5. He never thought about doing track until football and track assistant coach Chris Williams encouraged him to give it a try.
"At first I wanted to run the 100 and be like Usain Bolt," Cheeks said. "But as I started running, I saw I was a 400 runner. My junior year I ended up being pretty good at it. I stuck with it and I had a passion for it."
Cheeks, who signed with the University of West Georgia's football program, has been a standout receiver in football. He caught 21 passes for 588 yards and seven touchdowns to help the Hawks to the state quarterfinals last season.
In track, he qualified for the state meet as junior in the 400, but finished 10th in the prelims and failed to make the finals. That's when he set the goal to get back to Jefferson and leave with a medal.
"My junior year at state, I didn't use all my potential," Cheeks said. "Basically, I feel like I had to redeem myself. I just worked hard throughout the season."
Cheeks was runner-up in the 400 and high jump at county. He won Region 7-AAAAAA crowns in the 200, 400 and high jump and won the Class AAAAAA sectional in the 200.
"The 400, I feel like it made me tougher mentally and physically," Cheeks said. "It's a tough race. I feel like that helped me more than anything."
Cheeks qualified for five events at the state meet and medaled in all of them.
He won the 200 with a time of 22.01 seconds and anchored a state champion 1,600 relay team that had a time of 3:24.22. He finished third in the 400 with a time of 49.48 and was on a fourth-place 400 relay team that had a time of 42.99. He added a fifth medal in the high jump by placing fifth.
If that wasn't enough hardware, Cheeks' wins in the 200 and 1,600 relay secured Mill Creek's first state title in the program's nine-year history.
"It's real special, especially since it's my senior year," Cheeks said. "I did it with a group of guys that I've been with my whole high school year."