Gatlin Bair might be the most intriguing football prospect in the country. He also might be the most intriguing track and field prospect in the country.

He lives in Burley, Idaho, a town of about 12,000 in the heart of potato and sugar beet country, just three hours away from Salt Lake City. He’s also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ and plans to serve a mission for his church.

He’s 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, yet he runs like the wind that blows through Burley almost daily. His parents were star track athletes at Utah State — his mom an All-American pole vaulter, his father a conference decathlon champion.

Brad Bair has been training his son Gatlin since the latter was 5 years old. He trained him to be a decathlete — until he grew up to be a sprinter.

At last Saturday’s BYU Invitational, the biggest and oldest meet (112 years) in the Intermountain area, he ran 100 meters in 10.25 and 200 meters in 20.47 — both meet records. Those times rank third and second in the nation, respectively. They might not have even been his best performances that weekend.

In the previous day’s trials, he ran 100 meters in 10.29, with a headwind of 1.2 meters per second and cool 50-degree temperatures (“Kids in Florida and Texas don’t know what it’s like,” says Brad Bair, Gatlin’s father). He won the 200 by more than one second against Utah’s best sprinters — which, in track and field, means he was in a different area code than his rivals when he reached the finish line.

“The two greatest performances I’ve ever seen in my 50 years in the sport,” said Ed Murrell, a longtime prep coach and announcer at Utah track meets.

Bair, who is only a junior, blew up the internet last month after his performance in the trials of the 100-meter dash at the Texas Relays, where he clocked a time of 10.18 — with an aiding wind of 2.1, just .1 over the allowable limit. That time would have placed sixth in last summer’s NCAA track championships. Gatlin went on to win the finals with a wind-legal time of 10.25.

“I wanted him to run against the fastest guys,” Brad Bair told the Times-News after the race. “He was ready to run fast. I just wasn’t expecting that fast. I don’t think anybody was.”

Bair, a wide receiver, is also ranked among the top 40 recruits in the nation for football. He’s being recruited by almost every major football school in the country. He’s been offered by Alabama, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, TCU, Arkansas, BYU, Utah, Florida, Georgia, Miami, Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas A&M, among others.

Track fans will cry when they read the following sentences (so will BYU and Utah football fans). This is Gatlin’s final year of track. He’s going to graduate early in December, serve a church mission and then play football when he returns two years later. He has narrowed his top five schools to Michigan, Oregon, Nebraska, TCU and Boise State.

Why elite football speed is born on the track

“Most colleges that have offered me for football have also heard from track coaches and discussed (doing both sports),” he says. “At this point I’m not planning on it.”

It’s not difficult to track the source of Gatlin’s prowess on the track. As noted, his parents, Brad and Shae, who began dating while attending Snake River High in Blackfoot, Idaho, competed in track for Utah State. Brad was the 2002 Big West Conference decathlon champion (he finished second as a sophomore and a junior). He still has the sixth-best decathlon mark in USU history.

Shae was a sprinter and long jumper when she first arrived at USU, but converted to the pole vault, which had just been added to the NCAA program. She had never vaulted previously, but she picked it up quickly. She earned All-America honors three times, placing eighth and fifth in the NCAA indoor championships and fourth in the 2000 NCAA outdoor championships.

She cleared 13 feet, 9 ¼ inches, which stood as the school record for nine years until it was broken by a half inch (her mark still ranks No. 2). After Shae completed her collegiate eligibility, she was invited to train with Stacy Dragila, the 2000 Olympic champion, but Shae already had an infant child at the time and wanted to get on with family life.

A family of athletes

The Bairs have five children. The oldest, Peyton, is a freshman decathlete at Mississippi State. He won 10 Idaho state championships and was the 2020 Gatorade Idaho Runner of the Year after setting state records in the hurdles and long jump. He took time off to serve a mission in Arizona, but he has quickly returned to form.

He placed third in the heptathlon at the 2023 SEC indoor championships. He and Gatlin completed a brother act at the Texas Relays. The day before Gatlin won the 100-meter dash, Peyton competed in his first collegiate decathlon and finished second with a personal-record 7,819 points.

The Bairs’ second child, Jaxon, who is serving a church mission in Bolivia, signed with track powerhouse Arkansas. He broke the age-group (17-18) record in the decathlon at the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympic Championships held in Florida 2021 by accumulating 7,497 points — the eighth-best mark in prep history. In a field of 27 athletes, he outscored his nearest rival by more than 1,100 points.

Karlie Bair, Gatlin’s 14-year-old sister, won the USATF National Junior Olympic Pentathlon title last summer. Londynn, the youngest of the children (8), is participating in gymnastics.  

Gatlin, the middle child, was raised to be a decathlete like his brothers. He trained with his father and brothers and competed in the shorter pentathlon in age-group competitions, placing second in his first attempt at the USATF national championships, then 15th and fifth the next two years against boys about twice his age. At the age of 8 he began to focus on the sprints while continuing to train with his father.

Born to sprint

“As early as I can remember every track season my brothers and I would be training with the high schoolers,” he recalls. Brad and Shae coached the high school track team in Kimberley and oversaw a youth track club. They moved 30 miles east to Burley a couple of years ago. Brad, who works for an animal health company in the dairy business, is an assistant coach at Burley High and continues to oversee his son’s training program.

Asked if he is surprised by his son’s performances this year, Brad says, “No. He has made slow, consistent progress over time, so I’m not surprised. He ran 10.46 and 20.98 last year. He’s put in a lot of work.”

Gatlin caught 73 passes for 1,113 yards and totaled 20 touchdowns on the football field last season, but it is mostly his performance on the track, especially this spring, that has created so much interest among football recruiters. As Scorebook Live reported three weeks ago, Gatlin went from 13 NCAA Division I scholarship offers in September (including one from Utah) to 27. This is to say nothing of NIL financial offers.

“Track has been the gateway for me, really,” Gatlin told the Times-News. “It opened up a lot of doors and gave me a lot of opportunities.”

As one prep football coach told the Deseret News, “When college recruiters talk to me about him, they don’t even talk about his football; it’s all about track. If you watch video of him, you can see he’s still a little raw in football.”

From three sports to two

Gatlin was a three-sport athlete until this year; he didn’t play basketball last winter so he could begin training for the track season. He lifted weights and gained considerable strength (“I feel sorry for the kids that have to tackle him this fall,” says Brad). Gatlin squats 405 pounds and deadlifts an eye-popping 545 pounds.

“I’ve got long legs so my squat isn’t super impressive,” he says. During the indoor season, he clocked 6.69 in the 60-meter dash at the Simplot Games in February, a time that would have placed sixth in the men’s 2023 USA indoor championships held that same weekend in Albuquerque.

In the weeks leading up to the BYU Invitational last weekend, Bair ran the 200-meter dash in a cold rain at the Oregon Invitational and produced a meet-record time of 20.83 (10.43 in the 100). He recorded times of 10.36 and 20.61 in a recent meet in Idaho.

Bair generates so much power that he almost leaps out of the blocks. He generates so much power off the ground that he’s able to run over wickets that are set eight feet apart. “Seven feet is too tight,” says Brad.

Gatlin appears to have a great future in track, but he will leave it behind, becoming the first member of his immediate family not to compete in the sport in college. How does Brad feel about this? “It doesn’t matter,” he says. “It’s what he loves.” Gatlin will graduate from high school in seven months and leave for his mission so he can return in time to enroll for spring practice.

There have been reports (including one in The Athletic) that some interests have proposed using NIL money to pay for his mission. Gatlin told the Idaho Press, “There are all these opportunities, but I really don’t think I want to take part in any of those — especially for the mission. I just think it’s something that is very personal, and I don’t necessarily want to be helped through it.

“It’s something that is kind of a burden for your family, and I think it’s meant to be that way. It’s a sacrifice, it really is. You’re sacrificing yourself, your time and your possessions to serve the Lord. I really don’t think I’ll be taking part in any of those deals. Obviously, it’s a great gesture. I just think there’s a form of sacrifice that comes with doing that.”

Meanwhile, the track world will always wonder what might have been and the football world will have to wait about three years to find out what the future holds for him on the gridiron.