The most accomplished distance runner in Whiteland history is forever connected to the western half of the all-weather oval at Ben Davis High School.
It was over that stretch of track that Will Jefferson strongly shooed aside heartbreaks of the past by culminating his career with a long-awaited state championship.
By dominating the 3,200-meter run at the boys state track and field finals earlier this month with a spirited sprint at the end, the Whiteland senior capped his career exactly how he had always envisioned.
Jefferson’s efforts this spring earned him the Daily Journal’s Athlete of the Year on the track for the second time. He was also a three-time Runner of the Year in cross country.
“The highs and lows of running, there have been a lot of them,” said Jefferson, who qualified for state in cross country last fall only to cross the finish line an unexpectedly disappointing 79th. “A lot of races didn’t go my way, but it always gave me the urge to get back and do better.
“How I finished cross country season … that had a pretty big impact on my career. I let the pressure build up and get to me. Leading up to that race, I felt really fatigued, and once I hit the big stage, I wasn’t ready.”
Jefferson’s career at Whiteland seemed to include a little bit of everything.
As a junior, his 88th-place finish at the Shelbyville cross country semistate in a cold sideways rain, while disappointing, made more sense a few days later when it was discovered he had been competing with mononucleosis.
His track and field season last spring was wiped out entirely by the COVID-19 pandemic, taking away any chance for Jefferson to improve upon his 12th-place performance in the 3,200 at the 2019 state meet at Indiana University.
The disappointments made Jefferson better.
“Will certainly goes down as the best distance runner we’ve ever seen at Whiteland High School,” Warriors coach Brandon Bangel said. “All the things he went through made him winning a state championship all the sweeter. I’m just really, really happy for him, because he does all the stuff he’s supposed to do and is very positive.
“Knowing all of that, it made watching those final 100 to 150 meters all the more surreal. It’s definitely one of those memories you’ll never forget.”
Despite qualifying for the state track and field meet in the 1,600 and 3,200, he elected to bypass the former as a means of saving his strength for his preferred event. The strategy worked as Jefferson took control of the race early and continued to increase the distance between himself and what was a very talented field.
Jefferson now focuses on preparing for his cross country and track career at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he plans to major in sports administration.
No matter how far away geographically, memories of that special evening on the westside of Indianapolis will remain with Jefferson no matter how much he accomplishes at the next level.
“It was the biggest relief and gratification,” said Jefferson of the final 100 meters in what was last of his many races representing the Warriors. “It’s pretty sweet to say you’re a state champion.”
The 2021 All-County team for boys track:
Micah Coyle, Center Grove sophomore: Sectional champion in the 100 and runner-up in 200 at sectional and regional … Represented Trojans in two events at state meet, medaling in the 200 (seventh) and as second leg of the 4×100 relay (second).
Connor Delp, Center Grove senior: Qualified for state in four events, medaling in three — the 300 hurdles (third), 4×100 relay (second) and 4×400 relay (sixth) … County and sectional champ in long jump … Will play football at Indiana.
Zach Greller, Center Grove sophomore: County and sectional champion in 400 who went on to finish second at regional and pick up sixth-place medal at state … Was also part of Trojans’ sixth-place 4×400 relay at state finals.
Will Jefferson, Whiteland senior: Capped career with a state title in 3,200-meter run in personal-best time of 8:54.05 … Won that event at sectional and regional while being runner-up in 1,600 at both meets … Will run at Liberty University.
Aidan Neathery, Indian Creek junior: Johnson County and Western Indiana Conference champion in discus with a best throw of 169 feet … also won conference in shot put with best of 49 feet … Qualified for regional in discus.
Ethan Pheifer, Franklin senior: Qualified for state in 800, placing 20th … Prior to that, took third in that event at sectional and regional … Was part of Grizzly Cubs’ regional-qualifying 4×800 relay.
Jackson Schott, Center Grove senior: Regional champion in long jump with personal best of 22-5 … County and sectional champ in high jump … State qualifier in both events … Will play football at Miami of Ohio.
James Schott, Center Grove junior: Advanced to state meet in 110-meter hurdles … Dominated that event all season, winning Johnson County, sectional and regional championships.
Amar Singh, Center Grove senior: Concluded his lone season at Center Grove with 15th-place state performance in pole vault … Was also Johnson County and sectional champion and regional runner-up.
Brandon Wheat, Center Grove junior: Was third at state in 200, fifth in 100 and anchored second-place 4×100 relay … County champion in 100 and 200 and conference, sectional and regional champ in 200.
Tanner Allen, Greenwood; Mason Britt, Indian Creek: Parker Doyle, Center Grove: Brayden Gardner, Greenwood; Griffin Hennessy, Center Grove; Gregory Hueston, Franklin; Dalton Hughes, Whiteland; Tayven Jackson, Center Grove; Parker Mimbela, Center Grove; Raef Sauer, Center Grove; Tayton Schakel, Whiteland; Tristan Thomas, Whiteland; Gavin Wilson, Franklin; Drew Wheat, Center Grove