Sprinter Corey Ealy of Muir High has been chasing track star Quincy Watts of Taft High in Woodland Hills for two seasons.
While Watts has been acclaimed the best sprinter in the state, Ealy has had to settle for second best.
Such was the case in the CIF state track finals last year when Ealy finished second to Watts in the 200-meter dash and third to Madera's Ronald McCree and Watts in the 100 meters.
The results have been the same this season. Ealy finished behind Watts at the Pasadena Games, Arcadia Invitational and Mt. San Antonio College Relays.
Not far behind. Just behind.
Sounds like the makings of a pretty heated rivalry, right?
Hardly the case.
They are friends who go places together and even train together.
Says Ealy: "Every night we talk on the phone. On weekends we get together and just have fun. Sometimes we talk about track, sometimes about girls. Sometimes we sit in his room and do sit-ups and push-ups.
"Quincy and I get along better than most rivals."
Not exactly the stuff to fuel a rivalry.
If anything, the 18-year-old senior says, his friendship with Watts has helped him improve as a sprinter. It was Watts who recently helped convince Ealy to do push-ups and sit-ups to improve his upper-body strength--important for a sprinter.
Coach Clyde Turner, who instructs Muir's sprinters, said upper-body strength is the biggest factor separating Ealy from Watts on the track.
"That's the difference between Quincy and Corey," Turner said. "They're balanced with super speed, but it's the strength that Quincy has over Corey."
Ealy said he is starting to notice an improvement in upper-body strength and that may have played an important role in his setting an unofficial school record of 9.37 seconds in the 100-yard dash against cross-town rival Pasadena last week. (It is unofficial because the distance was measured as a few inches less than 100 yards after the race.)
But you will not find Ealy boasting about the accomplishment--not yet.
"I'm pleased with the time but it's nothing to get big-headed about," Ealy said. "I did it only once. If I could do it a few more times I would be a little more happy. That was just one good race and it's in the past."
Turner said Ealy's consistency could improve with more concentration, the shortage of which is among the biggest factors stopping Ealy from developing into a world-class sprinter.
"We had four years with Ray Brown (at Muir) and three years with Corey Ealy and both clocked at 9.3, but the difference is concentration," Turner said. "Ray concentrated a little more and Corey is a little more free in his approach.
"If Corey can concentrate more, he definitely has the ability to do better and reach the end of the rainbow. He is starting to concentrate more."
At 5-10 and 152 pounds, Ealy does not have the build of a track star. However, Turner said size is not the most important measurement for an athlete.
"When it comes down to competition and you're considered one of the top guys in the state, it doesn't matter how tall you are," Turner said. "Bernard Mathis (school record-holder in the 100-yard dash at 9.4 seconds) was not that big, Ray Brown was not that big and Corey is as light as a feather. But you can't measure a person by size. You measure them by heart, and Corey has a lot."
Turner said Ealy's desire was evident in the 100-yard dash when he trailed W.C. Morrison of Pasadena and teammate Ricky Ervins early in the race.
"When W.C. got in front of him, you could almost see it in his face," Turner said. "It was like he was saying, 'I've gotta' catch him,' and he did."
Coming from behind has been a necessity for Ealy because he is a slow starter. Maybe that's why Ealy prefers the 200-meter dash.
"I've always liked the 200 more than the 100," he said. "In the 200 it's your first 50 meters where you're building up speed and it's the last 50 where you show who's strongest."
Ealy said it has been difficult to build speed fast in the 100, although you couldn't judge by his top time of 10.6, the best mark in the CIF Southern Section, along with his 21.35 in the 200.
Ealy admits that he must improve his starting technique and strength to excel in college. But it has not stopped him from being recruited by many of the top track schools in the nation, including UCLA, Texas and Kansas.
Turner thinks Ealy is leaning toward UCLA.
"I would love to go to UCLA or any school that offers me a scholarship," Ealy said. "But I have to earn it and I don't think I've earned it yet."
Ealy said he would consider the scholarship earned if he can lead Muir to the CIF Southern Section 4-A and state track titles.
Muir is among the state title favorites with Hawthorne and defending-champion Taft.
"For us to be competitive in Southern Section or state, a lot of the pressure is going to be put on Corey," Turner said. "We're not putting any more pressure on him than Taft is putting on Watts.