Attention, high school football specialists. Do you know what many of the top high school football players in the state are doing this week?

They’re getting ready for the state championships — of track and field.

While you’re doing seven-on-seven and jumping up and down on boxes and lifting weights, they’re getting faster (and lifting weights). Much faster. Running fast is a fairly useful skill in football. Especially since the spread offense has taken over the game.

Let’s start with Cody Hagen, the defending state champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes who accepted a football scholarship to BYU. Last season he ran 100 meters in 10.52 seconds, which most knowledgeable people in the sport consider to be the real state record.

The Utah High School Activities Association recognizes the state record as 10.47, set in 1981, but it is widely believed to be hand-timed (a big deal in track) and probably wind-aided (another big deal). Roger Buhrley, who compiles all-time lists for each event in the state, recognizes Hagen’s mark as the fastest.

High school track: Top performances in Utah heading into this week’s state championship meet at BYU

Hagen missed the first half of the current track season after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia, but already he’s run 10.62 for 100 meters and 21.38 for 200 meters. He’ll start serving a mission for his church this summer and then play football (and possibly run track) for BYU when he returns. A wide receiver, he was selected as Mr. Football last fall by the Deseret News.

Early this season, Marcus McKenzie, a senior at Pine View High and the son of a former BYU football player, ran 100 meters in 10.54, the fourth fastest ever by a Utah prep. It seemed a foregone conclusion that he would break the official and unofficial state records this month, but he pulled a hamstring a week ago. He will play football (at wide receiver) and run track for BYU.

So will his twin brother Dominique, who last season clocked 10.60 for 100 meters — the eighth fastest in state history. He graduated early to begin serving a church mission and then he will begin his collegiate athletic career at BYU, but it’s tempting to wonder what he would have done on the track this spring if he had competed as a senior. He is the only Utah prep ever to run under 21 seconds at 200 meters (20.96); (his brother has the second-fastest time).

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The second-fastest sprinter in the state this season is Smith Snowden, a junior at Skyridge High who ran 100 meters in 10.57, which makes him tied for the sixth-fastest Utah sprinter ever. He’s a first-team all-state cornerback on the football field. He hasn’t decided where he will play college ball, but 10.5 speed has undoubtedly caught the attention of college coaches. His track coach is Cody Fonnesbeck, who’s still tied as the fourth fastest in state history (with Marcus McKenzie) 23 years after he did it.

You won’t see Harrison Taggart on the track this week for Corner Canyon High. That’s only because he graduated early to participate in spring football practice at the University of Oregon. Last spring, at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, he clocked 10.70 in the 100-meter dash and finished second to Hagen at the state meet in both the 100 and 200.

He is the 18th fastest 100-meter sprinter in state history, but if they had a big-man division he’d be No. 1. He’s faster (and bigger) than most running backs and receivers. Last season, he teamed with three other football players — Hagen, Noah Kjar and Cody Strong — to set a state record of 40.68 in the 4x100 relay — crushing the previous record of 41.46.

By the way, Kjar is serving a mission in Arizona and when he returns he’ll play football for Weber State. Last spring he ran 100 meters in 10.78.

The era (and myth) of the one-sport prep athlete

That brings us to Roy’s Parker Kingston, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound wide receiver/quarterback who ran 100 meters in 10.66 this fall, making him 12th on Utah’s all-time list. He played wide receiver as a sophomore, but when quarterback Jaxson Dart moved to Draper Kingston replaced him. He will play wide receiver for BYU.

One of the highlights of this weekend’s state track and field meet will be the showdown in the 100 and 200 meters between Snowden, Kingston and Hagen, who all compete in the 6A classification. With favorable weather conditions (especially wind), the races are almost guaranteed to be fast and close. Snowden will be favored in the 100, but Hagen is rebounding fast since resuming training about midway through the season; Hagen will be the favorite to defend his state title in the 200.

Top four sprint marks for 2022 prep track season

100 meters

10.54  Marcus McKenzie, Pine View

10.57  Smith Snowden, Skyridge

10.66  Parker Kingston, Roy

10.67  Cody Hagen, Corner Canyon

200 meters

21.28  Marcus McKenzie, Pine View

21.36  Parker Kingston, Roy

21.38  Cody Hagen, Corner Canyon

21.68  Smith Snowden, Skyridge

The status of McKenzie, a 4A athlete, is unknown after injuring his hamstring in the trial heats of the BYU Invitational early this month.

For years college football coaches have publicly advocated for high school athletes to participate in multiple sports, pushing back against the age of specialization. The football-track combination is especially encouraged. Many high school coaches give it only lip service and expect their players to be training for next season winter, spring and summer. There are exceptions, one of them being Eric Kjar, the head football coach at Corner Canyon and the school’s sprint coach, Kjar doesn’t even allow his sprinter-football players to participate in seven-on-seven drills once the season starts.

“I think track is the perfect sport for football players in the offseason,” says Kjar, who participated in both sports at the collegiate level. “The premium put on speed in the game has made track a must for high school football players.”

In 2019, a scouting service (Tracking Football) reported that more than 60% of NFL draft picks that year participated in track and field. Let’ reported in 2017 that eight of the first nine draft picks that year competed in track, including Myles Garrett, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey. Other great NFL players who ran track: Jamaal Charles, Robert Griffin, Adrian Peterson, Tyreek Hill …

Closer to home, Hagen, Snowden and Kingston are headed for a much-anticipated showdown this weekend.

Deseret News columnist Doug Robinson has been coaching high school track for 30 years, most recently at Corner Canyon this year after 25 years at Alta.

Roy’s Parker Kingston and Corner Canyon’s Cody Hagen battle to the end with Hagen taking the tape in the 200 meters.
Roy’s Parker Kingston and Corner Canyon’s Cody Hagen battle to the end with Hagen taking the tape in the 200 meters as high school athletes compete in a BYU Track Invitational in Provo on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Both sprinters will be taking their speed to BYU to play football for the Cougars. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News