2019 HS Boys Athlete Of The Year — Matthew Boling

The Texas Relays gave Boling a big early-season stage to perform on. (ERROL ANDERSON/THE SPORTING IMAGE)

IF THE NEWS & VIDEO of Matthew Boling’s sprint and long jump performances last spring felt like they came from out of left field—like this was a guy you didn’t even know was among the prime players in those events—don’t feel entirely alone.

Boling himself viewed his AOY campaign for Houston’s Strake Jesuit High in a similar light. “I saw a big season coming,” he says, “but not in the events I did them in. I thought—I still think I could have—run like 45.2 or lower in the 400. I saw myself running really well in the 400.” As a junior, Boling had run 46.15 for a single lap and earned our No. 5 All-America rating. He also ranked as the No. 5 long jump All-Am and jumped 23-11½.

Before this year he hadn’t run a century since 7th grade. He explains that he took up track in 6th grade: “I ran for my middle school and I did AAU Junior Olympic stuff that summer. I started out as a long jumper, high jump, and then I did the 100 and 200 in 6th grade. And then 7th grade was my last year in the 100 until this year, ’cause in 8th grade I did something weird with my hip flexor so I was out for 2 weeks or 3 weeks and I was like, ‘Oh, whatever. I’ll just run the 400 instead.’ And then I ran well in the 400 so that’s why I just ran the 400 till junior year.” (Continued below)

Boling’s legs, he found out along with the rest of us, had other ideas for his final prep campaign. He says, “I did the 100 and 200 at Texas Southern Relays just for practice and then I went 10.22 [and 20.58] so I was like, ‘I’ll try the 100 again at Texas Relays,’ and I went 10.2 again. So I was just, ‘OK, I’ll stay with the 100,’ because in Texas there’s District, Area, Regionals, State, and it’s back-to-back so its a better process to do the 100 than to have to run the 400 every week.” His account omits soaring past 25-feet in the long jump twice before his state’s famed baton-fest in Austin, and then reaching 25-7½w and finally 26-3½, the No. 7 all-time prep mark, at the Relays. Boling had arrived with a bang. Understatement. And he kept it up.

He thinks he grew about an inch between his junior and senior seasons. Possibly a factor in his newfound dash speed, and he says, “I did more speedwork. I remember one workout we did 50m sprints like 4 times for 4 sets and I was sore for like a week ’cause I just hadn’t sprinted in a really long time like that. But I had worked on a lot more sprinting and explosiveness. So I guess that helped a lot, but I was kinda surprised too when I ran that time in the 100.”

Then came the videos. Your haircutter and barista probably saw them, may have even brought them up if they know you’re a track fan. Sure, the track world knows and stands in awe that Boling won Texas State (10.13/25-4½w), USATF Junior (10.15w/20.36) and Pan-Am Junior (10.11/20.31) doubles. But his 44.74 State 4×4 anchor from close to 30m down at the handoff? Videoed by many, it drew views in the millions across the internet. Before that the web world lost it over video of Boling’s 9.98 at his Regional. A stupendous prep achievement though aided by a 4.2mps wind, the headlines it churned up ranged deep into stupid: “Texas Teen Nearly Breaks Usain Bolt’s Record As Fastest Man In World During High School Race,” “NEW WORLD RECORD at 9.98 seconds to #1 runner in the US 100M…

Looking back, Boling says, “Stepping into the blocks that day, I knew it was windy, I could feel it, but I was like, ‘I’m just gonna run my best and see what happens.’ I was hoping for like a 10-oh-something but when I finished I saw 9.98 and, I was just shocked, it was a really cool moment. Despite the wind it was really cool. I was like, ‘I’ll probably see it on Twitter, with MileSplit and other track companies.’ But then two or three days later I was seeing it on House of Highlights and ESPN and other big accounts. I was like, ‘Uh, what?’ The whole week after it was just crazy.

The runaway hype-fest? “I wish that one wouldn’t have happened,” he says, “’cause a lot of people who saw the video don’t know anything about track. So when that one came out everybody who knew anything about track started correcting them. Then it was kind of like a battle between people who knew stuff about track and people who don’t know anything about track. And I was just kinda sitting there like, ‘OK.’”

Boling wisely tuned it out. “We had State—not the next week, we had a bye—we had prom that weekend. I was having a good time with my girlfriend, I guess, I didn’t want to be on my phone the whole time,” he says. “But then the next week we had State and so I just shut everything off ’cause I just needed to get focused.” (Continued below)

Boling tabs that State baton carry as the highlight of his AOY year. The long relay had grown on him over the years. “At first I didn’t really like the 4×4 that much just ‘cause like—the 400. But I ran it to help my team because at State it’s double points for relays. I split 44.6 or 7 [44.74], I don’t remember, but that was probably one of the best moments in track for me, the most fun. And it showed me that I still was in 400m shape. The 100 and 200 really only helped my 400 to get better. And then at Pan-Am [Juniors] I was in the relay pool. I didn’t run the open [400] because I didn’t run it at Trials. But that was a really fun relay too because we had three other legs that could run 45-flat or lower, and then Justin [Robinson] anchored and split a 43-high. So we ended up running 2:59. We were all just shocked when we ran 2:59. We wanted to beat the World Junior Record but when we saw we broke 3:00, we were surprised. That was a lot of fun.”

Boling contributed a 44.5 second leg, icing on the cake of his two individual golds in Costa Rica, at a meet he had not imagined on his schedule when the year began. “I was not even gonna run in the summer,” he says. “My brother and I, actually, for our senior gift or whatever my parents were like, ‘Oh, yeah, y’all can go on a trip, like a fun backpacking trip with some of your other friends to Europe.’ So I was gonna do that. But then after TSU Relays I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m not running this summer.’ So I asked my parents, ‘Can I keep running instead?’ So my brother, my twin, ended up going to Europe and then I stayed back to run. So that was kind of a decision after my times when I started running the 1 and 2.”

Boling went from a high-23s long jumper to a low-26s one. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

The Euro vacation he missed “looked like fun,” Boling says. “I don’t know where all they went but they went to a lot of different places. But I’m glad I stayed home and ran. And also it was like a 3-week trip and I don’t really like going out of town for a long time.”

From now on Boling will spend a lot of time outside Houston as he settles in for his frosh year at Georgia. He says of his new collegiate life in Athens, “For like the first week and a half I was really homesick, I guess. ‘Cause I had a really fun summer. So I missed everyone back home. And then I guess now it’s a lot better. I’m making friends, the track team is great and they’re all really nice. I’ve played Madden with some of my friends before I go to bed. But I’m adjusting to it a lot better.”

Boling picked Georgia over other suitor teams because—well, because he thought of himself as a quartermiler when he plunged. “At first, when I e-mailed them over the summer [of ’18] saying I was interested, I was a 400 runner and I did long jump, but I really wasn’t planning on doing [long jump] in college because I was planning on doing the 4 and 2. And then I guess, well, they won Nationals and Coach AT [assistant Althea Thomas] coached Lynna Irby, who won Nationals in the 400 and, I think, got 3rd in the 200 her freshman year. And that’s like what I wanted to do so it really attracted me to the university. And then I went on a visit in September and the whole team, the team, reminded me of my high school team. It’s a really competitive team and they all are very goal driven. So that attracted me to join the team. And I signed on November 14th, so I signed before even the plan was to do 1, 2, long jump, right.”

With the 2019 season behind him, Boling knows where he’s heading: “The direction that I plan on going right now is the 100, 200, long jump for like a national meet ’cause that’s the best triple to do. It’s kind of hard to fit a 400 in there. But I’m not going to give up on the 400, I’ll still do it occasionally.” One guesses the Bulldog faithful may want to see him run it on the relay once in a while.