The first day of collegiate track came as a big surprise to Martinsville High School graduate Nigal Davis.
Davis was an outdoor track state champion for the Bulldogs, and was used to playing sports year round. He played football and basketball and ran track in high school before graduating in 2019.
After initially going to school at the University of Virginia as just a student, the boredom of not having any sports to compete in got to Davis pretty quickly.
“I was taking like five classes and I was doing well,” Davis said in a Zoom interview Friday.
“I adjusted faster than I thought I would and I was doing very well in the classroom, my grades were up and I just had a lot of free time... So I would do work and just sit around bored. I didn’t have anything to do. All my life I’ve been playing sports so I thought it’s time to get back involved in athletics.”
Davis decided to try to walk on to the Cavaliers track team because it was the one sport he felt like he had the most room to improve. He sent an email to Michelle Freeman, the sprints coach at UVa. He told her about his high school times and credentials, which included a 2018 VHSL Group 2 state championship in the 100 meter dash, and six all-state finishes his senior year.
Freeman invited Davis to fall workouts, but his classes conflicted with practices and lifting, so he had to wait until the spring to try out.
When Davis got a chance to try out for the Cavaliers last January, the practice was tougher than anything he’d experienced in high school.
“I had to do ten 200s... I was like, ‘Did I hear you correctly?” he said with a laugh.
The tryout was about more than seeing if Davis had the speed to keep up with the rest of the Cavaliers. It was a test of his mental fortitude.
“She tested me to see if I had the mental toughness to push through because midway through the workout I was like over the trash can, throwing up and everything and she was just laughing. Afterwards she was like, ‘It’s different isn’t it?’”
“She broke me in really good. I had a tough workout.”
Davis continued working out with the Cavaliers for a couple months, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented him from being able to compete in any meets last spring. Those couple of months of practices, though, helped him to adjust to the workload easier and be more prepared for actual meets this winter.
“We had a couple first years come in and I was like, ‘I know how you feel. A couple months ago I was feeling just like you’re feeling,’” he said.
The former Bulldogs has already competed in two indoor track meets for the Cavaliers this year, most recently finishing ninth in both the 60 and 200 meter dash at the Hokie Invitational at Virginia Tech last weekend.
A new challenge for Davis has been running a leg on the Cavaliers’ 4x400 meter relay team. He never ran any races longer than 200 meters when he was in high school. He ran the 300 meter dash in a meet, and did better than he expected, and believes he’ll remain a part of the 4x4 relay for both indoor and outdoor track.
High school track is no comparison to running collegiately, but Davis has enjoyed it so far.
“The jump from high school to collegiate athletics, especially track, the mental toughness you have to have is insane,” he said. “I’ve played a lot of sports throughout my whole life, but I would definitely say the mental strength you have to have to push through these collegiate track workouts, it’s crazy.
“It’s like, ‘Are you sure you’re allowed to be doing this to us?’ but it’s what you have to do to excel in this sport. It’s a process you have to buy into like any other sport.”
Davis has learned to buy into the process, and he’s already seen how much faster it’s made him. He has goals he communicates with his coaches and is taking it step-by-step to reach them.
“I know as far as me compared to some of my other teammates, they have more experience than me, more technical stuff,” he said. “For me, I don’t want to sell myself too high, sell myself too short, but it’s putting a goal out there. It’s like you have to buy in each day and try to get better for each goal. I have certain goals I want to meet. In indoor I have a goal for each event.
“I talk to my coach and he’s like you can’t get there unless you do this, this, and that. So It’s buying in to each process. My goal right now is just taking it time by time, trying to improve my technique and getting my time down and get to conference... Once I’m able to do that it’ll just keep going up and up and decreasing my times as I go.”
Here’s a look at other Martinsville High School athletes competing collegiately:
(Editor’s note: This list is not exhaustive.)
- E.J. Bratcher is a sophomore on the football team at UVA-Wise. As a redshirt freshman in 2019, Bratcher finished with 29 receiving yards, averaging 9.67 yards per reception in five games. The Cavaliers will play a four game spring season beginning in March.
- DeNiya Gravely is a sophomore on the track team at Norfolk State University. During her freshman indoor track season, she ran a leg on the winning 4x400 meter relay team at the VMI Team Challenge, and qualified for the MEAC Indoor Championships in both the 60m and 200m. NSU has competed in three meets so far this indoor season, and will compete again on Monday.
- Jeremiah Law is a freshman on the men's basketball team at Patrick Henry Community College.
- Wilson Bowles and Jaedyn McKinney are sophomores on the men's soccer team at Patrick Henry Community College.
Cara Cooper is a sports writer for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at email@example.com