Never mind that in the 90 minutes or so before the NCAA 4 x 400 final, two members of USC’s baton quartet, Michael Norman and Rai Benjamin, had broken individual Collegiate Records in full-lap races. The 3:00.77 squad that had won the NCAA Indoor title racing under the World Record had one more standard to chase—with world-class competition from Texas A&M, LSU and Florida a certainty.
The relay CR, stopping the clock at 2:59.00—in territory usually the province of full-blown national teams—was no afterthought for the Trojan battalion made up of senior Ricky Morgan, Benjamin, frosh Zach Shinnick and Norman.
Morgan, “our senior captain, our first leg, he’s graduated now,” Norman explained after the four linked their legs with teamwork: 45.9, 43.6, 45.85, 43.62. “His eligibility is exhausted so we had to bring it home with a bang. So he said, ‘Finish strong. I’m carrying the baton home to make sure you come home strong,’ and then we couldn’t let him down.”
Morgan and Shinnick drew energy from the two Trojan CRs that preceded theirs. “While we were warming up,” said Shinnick, “we were watching them run and halfway through we walked over and watched Rai win and we were like, ‘Alright, now it’s our time to get it.’”
After her relayists had delivered, USC head Caryl Smith Gilbert was—not speechless, but nearly so and beaming as she spoke. “Simply amazing,” she said. “Exciting, awesome, fantastic. Just the hardest-working kids—young men. I’ve never seen people with such great personalities, so much talent and such work ethic. Unbelievable.” (continues)
Asked what had been the performance of the day, Quincy Watts, who directs Trojan 400 training, punted: “Ah, you know what, I couldn’t pick. Those guys just did a magnificent job of listening to their coaches and staying dialed in to exactly what they wanted to do.”
Surely mindful that not only was Morgan a graduate but that he and Benjamin had earned potential graduations of a kind, to the pro ranks, Norman said of finishing the relay with a blinding charge down the homestraight, “I just remembered that Coach Watts always says, ‘Bring it home hard. We have to leave a little legacy for the last time running together.’”
Indeed, within days of the race, the two individual CR setters announced that they had signed with agents. Nobody was surprised although many were awed by their last collegiate race.