More than 200 track athletes were wandering around the field at Covina High waiting to warm up. Trying to identify the defending state champion in the 100 and 200 meters amid a diverse group of teenage boys and girls was difficult.
Then, out of the blue, came a clue. Remontay McClain was the only student carrying a garbage container at the request of his coach, Kevin Glaspy.
FOR THE RECORD:
Prep sprint champion: Eric Sondheimer's column in the April 8 Sports section, a profile of Covina High sprinter Remontay McClain, said no California prep athlete had swept the 100 and 200 sprints in consecutive years since 1918. McClain, the defending champion in both the 100- and 200-meter events, hopes to be the second male to do so. Randall Carroll of Los Angeles Cathedral High won both in 2008 and 2009. —
Lots of people had gushed about the humble, modest demeanor of McClain, and there he was demonstrating his selflessness.
"That's why he's so loved," Glaspy said.
Covina had not produced a state track champion since 1924 until McClain came out of nowhere last season as a junior. On the Monday he returned to school, a surprise rally was organized at lunch, the choir singing and cheerleaders dancing.
McClain blushed at the attention and felt a little embarrassed.
"I was shy about the rally," he said. "I didn't want the rally."
That's McClain, an 18-year-old who loves to win but then enjoys a return to anonymity.
"I don't really need to be in the spotlight off the track," he said. "I like to go out, have fun, be a normal person."
Except there's nothing normal about how fast McClain can run. At 6 feet 2, 187 pounds, he is the fastest teenager in California.
He ran the second-fastest 100 time in the nation last season, 10.35 seconds. He won the state 100 by edging football standout George Farmer of Gardena Serra. It was so close at the finish that McClain thought that Farmer had won.
But McClain, who started poorly out of the block, made up enough ground to win at the end.
"When they posted it on the board, I was shocked," McClain said. "It was a great moment. I thought about the hard work, my coach, my mom."
McClain grew up in Victorville and moved with his mother, Roberta, to Covina when he was 13.
He said he first became enthralled with running by watching Animal Planet and seeing how fast cheetahs went after their prey.
"The cheetahs were so fast and I always wanted to be fast," he said.
McClain takes the bus or walks to school and remains unassuming despite his rise to prominence in track and field.
He has signed with Azusa Pacific, a school not far from where he lives and one that has vowed to help him with a couple of learning disabilities that have hindered his progress in the classroom but not lessened his commitment to keep improving.
The way he carries himself has brought him respect and admiration. And then there's the example he sets for classmates.
"He's just a kid who works his butt off every day in practice," Glaspy said.
McClain played receiver for the football team, but he's hardly as well-known as the USC-bound Farmer or Oregon-bound De'Anthony Thomas of Crenshaw, both football standouts recognized for their speed.
McClain knows how tough it will be to repeat as sprint champion. He would become the second California prep athlete to sweep the 100 and 200 in consecutive years since 1918. Former Los Angeles Cathedral and current UCLA receiver Randall Carroll did so in 2008-09.
He's trying to stay healthy and competitive. He's scheduled to race in the 100 on Saturday night at the Arcadia Invitational, one of the most prestigious track events of the season.
Last year, he wasn't even invited to the invitational portion of the 100. He finished fourth in the seeded race.
"Week by week, he got faster and faster," Glaspy said.
Now he's trying to keep his title as fastest teenager in California, and that makes him anything but normal.