Unity senior Migut nabs elusive 300 hurdles state title

Unity senior Migut nabs elusive 300 hurdles state title

CHARLESTON — Steven Migut's right knee told half of the story. The smile on the Unity senior's face told the second half.

Migut's 300-meter intermediate hurdles race at Saturday's Class 2A boys' track and field finals could have been over after just one leap.

A prep career that, to that point, featured nine individual state medals could've concluded with Migut not even crossing the finish line.

Instead, the lasting image was Migut atop the podium inside Eastern Illinois' O'Brien Stadium with a bloody gash on his knee and a piece of gold hardware around his neck.

Migut overcame an early mistake to capture a state hurdling triumph that eluded him up until Saturday. Combined with a runner-up display in the 110 high hurdles, the future Army football athlete finished his high school track tenure with an even 10 plaudits.

"I've had the most motivation because I've never won a state championship in the hurdles, and I have worked so, so, so, so hard over the last six years of my life to get one," Migut said. "And now I've finally got one, and it makes everything feel better."

It certainly took the sting out of the flesh wound on his leg, as well as a botched handoff in the Rockets' 400 relay that dashed any hopes of a stronger showing.

"The whole Unity Rockets community is proud of Steven," coach Tim Gateley said. "He does a great job and has done a great job for four years. We're very proud of him."

After that rough relay, Migut set his school's 110 hurdles record by clocking 14.19 seconds. That topped a mark held by Aaron Luesse, who zoomed to that event's 1A championship in 2015. According to Gateley, Migut will end his time as a Rocket with six school bests on the track.

But Saturday's defining moment for Migut came in the opening seconds of his 300s.

"That first hurdle, I smoked (it)," Migut said.

"I think he hit it twice," Gateley added. "He hit it so hard, the reaction from the first contact came up and hit him again."

Migut was jarred, but he didn't completely lose his footing. Instead, he got to work making up ground against the likes of Harrisburg senior Niko Neal and Geneseo senior Reed Vanderheyden.

"I kind of hit a panic button," Migut said. "I was watching all the races (Friday), and I was like, 'All right, this kid's got a good start. The Geneseo kid's a good finisher.' So I just kicked it into a (new) gear."

Gateley said he noticed Migut regaining control at the fourth hurdle. By the seventh barrier, Migut was buzzing up the homestretch right alongside Neal and Vanderheyden.

Neal slipped up on the second-to-last hurdle and didn't finish. Vanderheyden was stumbling across the line. And there was Migut, ahead of the field despite a potentially disastrous start and looking at a time of 38.20 seconds.

"Niko from Harrisburg and the guy from Geneseo just kind of locked up," Gateley said. "There's a lot of emotions that go through your head when you're sitting in Lane 5 with the fastest time and smack hurdle number one."

After Migut slowed his stride, he placed his head in his hands before looking up to the sky and saying, "Thank you. Thank you so much."

"It means everything to me," Migut said. "My grandpa just died about a month and a half, two months ago. He's been to a couple of my football games, and he was going to be there for my graduation. He wasn't able to (be there), so that's extra motivation."

Both Migut and Gateley offered praise for independent coach Gary Spezia, who has worked with Migut on bettering his hurdling abilities.

That partnership aided the keystone performance of another individual in Unity's long line of hurdling stars. Gateley noted the Rockets have sent someone to state in at least one of the hurdles competitions every year since 2009. Migut joins Luesse as the only guys in that time to place first.

"Our philosophy is you just keep reloading," Gateley said. "These guys in junior high saw somebody in high school that was able to perfect the craft of hurdling. We hope there's someone at seventh- or eighth-grade level or freshman or sophomore level that's willing to take that over."

For one more day, though, Migut was the Rocket assuming that mantle. And it finally earned him what he desired most in a gold medal — along with a busted-up knee.

"I just used every ounce of energy in my body to get me to the finish line first," Migut said, "and somehow I did it."