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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Few Sprinters Fast Enough to Stay in Rogers' Neighborhood

May 25, 2000|JIM BARRERO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As much as Keith Morris marvels at Warren Rogers' ability, he knows with a few changes the sprinter could be even better.

Morris, an assistant track coach at Gardena Serra High, has watched Rogers run for the Cavaliers for four years. His mind wanders at times, trying to predict how good Rogers--regarded by many as the nation's best high school sprinter--can become.

"Warren doesn't realize how fast he is," Morris said.

Rogers heads into the Southern Section Masters Meet on Friday at Cerritos College hoping he can qualify for the state meet next week in the 100- and 200-meter events and keep alive Serra's chances for a state title. The top five finishers in each event advance.

Normally, there would be no doubt about Rogers' prospects.

But in the Southern Section divisional meet last week, doubts arose when Rogers pulled up hobbling because of a strained left hamstring after winning the Division IV 200.

"It's pretty sore," Rogers said between therapy sessions that will continue until race time Friday. "It was tight before the race and the way I came out of the blocks affected me. But I just told myself I had to do it."

Despite the pain, Rogers' time of 21.13 seconds was the best of any competitor in any division.

Earlier, he ran 10.52 in the 100 to finish with the second-fastest time overall. Bennie Robinson of Division I Long Beach Poly clocked 10.48.

Last year, Rogers' dream season fizzled at the state meet when he suffered a similar hamstring injury on the first day and had to withdraw.

Rogers went to Sacramento with the state's fastest times in the 100 at 10.34 and the 200 at 20.88, which ranked second and third, respectively, in the nation.

If anyone was to derail Kareem Kelly and Darrell Rideaux of Long Beach Poly in the sprints, it was Rogers.

It didn't happen.

Kelly won the 100 and 200, Rideaux finished second in the 100 and Poly finished second in the team standings, two spots ahead of Serra.

Rogers, who will attend UCLA on a track scholarship, took the setback in stride, focusing more on preventing long-term damage than on the moment.

"He knew he had another chance this season and he's done well," Coach Richard Gatlin of Serra said.

Rogers, 5 feet 8 and 165 pounds, has succeeded without the brash personality characteristic of many sprinters.

He does not engage in arm-waving or taunting competitors.

"He's a very inward person and he doesn't say much," Gatlin said. "He's definitely not a braggart."

This season some have tried to fuel a rivalry between Rogers and Poly's Robinson. They raced each other only once, at the FloJo Memorial Arcadia Invitational on April 8, and Robinson won the 100 in 10.41. Rogers finished second in 10.46.

They are set to match up in two races Friday, but Rogers said he is not putting extra significance on the meeting.

"There's no rivalry," said Rogers, who anchors Serra's 400 and 1,600 relay teams, but will not compete in those races Friday. "Everybody thinks there is, but we're actually really good friends."

Rogers won't allow himself to be engaged in a war of words.

"I know there's always someone out there that can beat you, so you can't underestimate anyone," he said.

Few have taken the upper hand on Rogers, and the potential exists to put even more distance between himself and the competition. Next season will be the first that Rogers, also a standout football player, devotes 100% to track.

Morris cautions, however, that Rogers must alter his approach if he hopes to avoid injury and achieve his goal of competing in the 2004 Olympics.

"His mind-set right now is to just get on the track and run without necessarily the proper warm-up or warm-down. . . .," Morris said.

"We as coaches can tell [the athletes] everything they need to do, but a lot of it is up to them. It's one of those things that any young athlete might not understand until they mature and become an adult."

Rogers seems to accept this notion and knows where his focus needs to be.

"In track I have the opportunity to take it to a professional level," Rogers said. "Eventually I want to be one of the fastest people in the nation."

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