Words couldn’t accurately describe how Fabian Santiago and his teammates felt as they gathered together on June 11.
Santiago, Reggie Morton, Darnell Charles and Stephen Adkisson locked arms before the Oakcrest High School seniors’ final 4x100-meter race at the Meet of Champions at Carl Sandburg Middle School in Old Bridge. They opted out of their ritual pre-race pep talk.
Instead, they soaked in the moment.
“We just huddled up and looked at each other,” Santiago said. “We really didn’t want to say anything, because we knew that would be our last race together.”
The Falcons’ sprinters went on to win in 42.09 seconds. Santiago, a Mays Landing resident, also would win the 100- and 200-meter dashes. He is just the third boy since the Meet of Champions began in 1969 to win three gold medals in one year.
Santiago is The Press Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
Plenty of celebration surrounded Santiago and his Oakcrest teammates, who won the state Group III championship. But the end was a little bittersweet.
All of Oakcrest’s seniors — who includes Syid Evans-White, Akmed Muhammad, Justin Veltri, Aaron Wilson and Andrew Dodimead — were close.
Santiago, an only child, grew up with his relay teammates, nearly all of whom are headed to different collegiate paths. His partners became his brothers, and the Falcons’ coaches like second fathers.
Santiago was sad to see the ride come to an end.
“We never ran track together when we were little. We just played video games and hung out,” Santiago said. “Then one day, we decided to join track, and we became that much closer.”
However, the Falcons’ top sprinter has a lot to look forward to. He is still undecided about college but will very likely end up running for an NCAA Division I track program.
Santiago thought he was set on a school. Then, he ran the 200 in 21.0 seconds at the South Jersey Group III championships — the 17th-fastest time in the nation this spring.
New doors opened up. Several schools contacted Santiago that weekend. He said he’s narrowed his selection down to a few schools, including Kansas, Penn State and Monmouth.
Santiago is a three-time state champion in the 100. Before the Falcons won their state title, Santiago sparked the team to dominating victories in the South Jersey and Cape-Atlantic League meets.
“All the things we set our sights on, we were able to accomplish,” Oakcrest coach Les Petty said.
It’s tough for Santiago to separate from his teammates. But he can look back proudly on the legacy they left on Oakcrest’s track and field program.
“We got a lot accomplished,” Santiago said. “It was fun.”
Team of the Year
Track and field enthusiasts around the state expected big things from Oakcrest.
The Falcons did not disappoint. They won their second straight state title.
“It’s a great thing,” Petty said of the team’s accolades. “We worked hard, and I think we deserve it.”
Oakcrest dominated the Cape-Atlantic League, going 8-0 in dual meets and winning another American Conference title. The Falcons’ depth led to easy wins in several weekend meets and the South Jersey Group III championship.
After the first day of the state Group III meet, the Falcons held a 20-point lead over the most serious threat to their title, defending champion Timber Creek. By the end of the meet, Oakcrest outscored the Chargers 80-62.
The Falcons finished ranked No. 1 in The Press Elite 11.
“We set some goals this year based on last year’s successes. Fortunately, we were able to repeat as state champions,” Petty said.
Coach of the Year
Petty knew before the season began that he had a special group of athletes.
Coaches don’t normally get so many stellar athletes in one bunch. Petty helped each of them realize their potential.
Petty is the Boys Track Coach of the Year.
The season brought Petty some accolades of his own. He earned his 100th career dual-meet win at Oakcrest’s second meet. His record over 17 years is 106-55.
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