Erriyon Knighton accelerated powerfully at the start of his 200 meter race. By the time the Hillsborough High sprinter turned the corner, he already had the lead.
Running alone — startlingly alone — for the last half of the event, Knighton showed no interest in slowing down with the gold medal at last weekend’s Junior Olympics already a foregone conclusion.
Instead, Knighton dashed to the finish, screeching past a fast field and into the record books.
The result was a stunning wind-legal time of 20.33 seconds, the fastest-ever recorded in the 16 year old’s age group (15-16) at the Junior Olympics and the nation’s top time by a high school athlete so far this year.
“I was really just trying to beat the age group record of 20.62,” Knighton said. “I knew I went pretty fast, maybe had a time of like 20.55.
“Once they told me my actual time, I was in shock.”
So was the rest of the track world.
Knighton shaved 56 seconds off his personal best set last month. And his blistering 20.33 time was just 0.20 seconds off the under-18 world record set by Usain Bolt.
That was not all.
In the 100 meters, Knighton again sprinted to the head of the class at the Junior Olympics, this time winning in 10.29 seconds, a time that is tied for the nation’s top mark by a high school athlete this year.
Those two performances got the attention of several sports celebrities, locally and nationally, who weighed in on the eye-opening times.
Former Lakers standout Mychal Thompson, the father of Golden State’s Klay Thompson, took to social media, comparing Knighton to track icon Bolt.
Trayvon Bromell, the Olympic sprinter who starred at Gibbs and Baylor, also heaped praise on Knighton, particularly boasting about the speed Florida produces.
“I’m happy for (Knighton),” Bromell said. “Those are great times to be running at his age.”
Even though Knighton has solidified himself as the premier up-and-coming sprinter in the nation, if not the world, his meteoric rise is somewhat startling.
After all, Knighton still is a novice in the sport. He took up track for the first time last year, due in part to a heavy push from Terriers coach Joey Sipp.
“I knew it would only help him in football,” Sipp said.
Knighton is a neophyte in football, too. He started taking the sport seriously in middle school and didn’t play varsity at Hillsborough until this past season. As a sophomore, Knighton had just seven receptions, four of which went for touchdowns.
“Erriyon is the fastest guy we’ve ever had and we’ve had some pretty fast dudes around here,” Hillsborough football coach Earl Garcia said. “The thing that’s the most impressive about Erriyon is he’s not just a track guy that happens to play football. He blocks. He’ll return kicks. He can do it all on the field.”
Knighton’s big-play ability, combined with his speed, made him a bona fide football prospect. He is already ranked as a four-star recruit on 247 Sports’ composite list and has offers from six Division I-A programs, including Florida and FSU.
Track stardom took more time.
“I really didn’t think I would be that good as a sprinter,” Knighton said. “I was really doing it because I thought it might help me a little bit and stay in shape for football.”
At last year’s Junior Olympics, Knighton took home medals in the 100 and 200. That was the moment he felt he could excel in the sport.
Knighton’s performance this year is even more impressive when you consider his high school season was reduced to just a few meets and his training regimen has been cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The scary thing is Erriyon is just scratching the surface,” Sipp said. “I don’t even think he realizes just how fast he can be.”
Blazing past defenders — and opposing sprinters — is something Knighton has the chance to do on the next level.
So far, Knighton’s only track scholarship is from FSU. Still, the multi-sport star said every football coach who has offered told him he could run track.
Knighton’s future is coming into his focus.
So is his vision.
This summer, Knighton failed a physical because of poor eyesight. He had 20/100 vision in one eye and 20/80 in the other. He now has glasses and plans on getting contacts.
“It didn’t really bother me in track,” Knighton said. “I could still see. The only thing that was blurry was when I tried to read plays from the sideline in football.”
The picture is clear. Two more years of football and track at Hillsborough, followed by four more years of both sports in college.
What becomes the focus after that?
“I might lean toward track, slightly,” Knighton said. “I’m thinking about the Olympics more and more.”