Marcus Mills discovered his talent in the 110-meter hurdles by accident.
The COVID-19 pandemic robbed the Sierra High School track and field athlete of a season in 2020. Mills had not competed in hurdles since middle school and decided to do a test run in practice.
“He was like, ‘Hey, these look fun. Let me see what I got,’” said Sierra Coach Amy Dolbeare. “He pulled the hurdles on to the turf just in case (he fell). Watching him do those hurdles, he was clearly a natural. All the sudden we put him in a meet to see what he had. He went out there and killed it. It’s become something he’s natural at and it’s very easy for him. With some good guidance and coaching he’s run away with it.”
After witnessing Mills’ talent in the hurdles, Dolbeare said she called Kelby Dias, a former Sierra hurdler, to help coach the newbie.
Dias did not need much time to notice Mills’ abilities.
“You can tell someone has a knack for hurdles because they’ll just glide over a hurdle,” Dias said. “I could see his trail leg was pretty solid, up into his armpit and pretty closed and shut down on the way through. [Mills] seems like he’s the type that can be locked in. It’s exciting to see the tide come back around.”
Mills’ romp began at the Harrison Panther Invitational at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium on May 15. The heat sheets showed his name without a time.
Heats progress from slowest to fastest times to balance competition and, since the first heat had six other competitors with no times, Mills ran with the second group.
Mills ran a 16.83 seconds race to secure fifth overall out of 24 competitors. He placed second in the second heat clocked in at 19.89 and placed 14th overall.
As Mills cruised past the field in his first high school hurdles event, those who were watching were puzzled by how he finished three seconds ahead of the field.
“Parents from other schools came up and told me we put him in the wrong heat,” Dolbeare said. “People watching him noticed something wasn’t right. But I told them that was his first time out there. Since that point, he’s been (seeded well) and in good lanes every time.”
Mills ran his second best time of the year at 16.01 at the Fountain-Fort Carson Invitational the following week and earned his first, first-place finish at the Titan Invite on June 5 clocking in at 16.56. The entire season he has placed in the top five of the event.
Mills carried that momentum to Lakewood for the preliminaries of the Class 3A state track and field meet.
The sophomore finished fourth with a season-best time of 15.99 in the event to qualify for the finals June 26.
“Everybody wants to make it to state and everyone wants that medal,” Mills said. “I want it too and I’m glad the first day went so well. I know not everybody gets to do this and I’m grateful to have the opportunity.”
Though Mills qualified for the finals, the 110 hurdles race ended abruptly for the sophomore. Mills clipped the first hurdle and landed in another lane, which disqualified him from the race. Dias said it seemed like the fall motivated Mills to do better more than it discouraged him.
“It seems like it’s something that will fuel him,” Dias said. “He didn’t shut down, he seemed more like he’s ready for next year. I don’t think this is anything that will set him back, but it will push him to be better.”
Dolbeare did not focus on the heartbreak ending for Mills. She noted his dedication to complete the race despite the results.
“He got back up to finish the race,” Dolebeare said. “That shows his dedication to his craft. He never wants to give up and always wants to finish. That’s what he brings to every practice and everything he does. I’m so proud of him and his work ethic.”
He exuded that passion throughout the state championships, most noticeably in the boys mile relay. Sierra’s 4x400 relay team, where Mills ran the anchor leg, entered the race seeded 10th and needed a season-best effort to qualify for finals.
The top nine teams made it to the final race and Sierra placed 10th with a time of 3:35.34. It marked the second time the Stallions missed the finals by one spot as the 4x1 also placed 10th in their race.
While it set a new season-best time for Sierra, the quartet expected to compete on the final day of the meet in the event.
Mills dropped to the ground, frustrated with the outcome. Dolbeare hoped to watch the boys race against the other squads in the finals, but said seeing that spirit in a sophomore shows his passion toward improvement.
“He has athletic competitive aggression in the best way possible,” Dolbeare said. “He’s not satisfied unless it’s the absolute best. He brings that to practice. He’s someone who comes with that mentality which makes him very coachable. When you want it and you’re hungry for it, that’s easy to coach because all we have to do is provide the skills and he’s going to take that and run with that.”
Mills took a moment after both races to compose himself and said he is grateful for the opportunity to compete with the state’s best athletes.
While grateful, he said he is not satisfied with the results and will return vastly improved next season.
“I’ll be back,” Mills said. “Trust me, this isn’t the end for me.”