By now, Bryshon Nellum may be accustomed to standing out. He finished the season ranked No. 1 in both the 200- and 400-meter dash among prep competitors nationwide, owning the fastest time throughout the entire 2006-07 outdoor campaign. The Long Beach (Calif.) Polytechnic High senior won both events in the California Division I state meet by a wide margin, becoming the first track athlete in the talent-laden state of California ever to win both the 200- and 400-meters at the state level two years in a row. In the process, he broke a 20-year old California state record in the 200 (20.43) and set a personal-best in the 400 (45.54).
Competing at last weekend's USA Junior Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Indianapolis, Nellum accepted the 2006-07 Gatorade National Boys' Track and Field Athlete of the Year award, displaying deep humility at being so honored ahead of 49 competing Gatorade Track Athlete of the Year state winners this season.
"It's such a blessing just to have people speak positively in association with your name, let alone to have something like this happen," said the USC-bound Nellum, who turned 18 on May 1. "I never thought I'd be associated with the type of athletes and people who've won this award. This is a dream come true."
The 6-foot, 170-pound Nellum took home two additional gold medals during the state meet; as a member of Long Beach Poly's 1,600-meter relay team and as the anchor for the Jackrabbits' 4-x-400-meter relay quartet, which broke a 26-year-old school record earlier this year. His state meet performance marked only the second time an athlete has won four gold medals in the Division I state competition -- the other was 91 years ago. Nellum's six career gold medals in state competition represent a new state record as well. He was also a member of Poly's 800-meter Sprint Medley Relay foursome that set a national record with a time of 1:28.43 in 2007.
The second national winner from California this year (Mira Costa High's Alix Klineman was the 2006-07 Volleyball Player of the Year), Nellum becomes the seventh male track and field athlete from California to receive national Gatorade honors, joining fellow national winners David Klech (2005-06, California High, San Ramon), Jon Stevens (1997-98, Mission San Jose High), Michael Granville (1995-96, Bell Gardens High, Bell Gardens), Michael Stember (1994-95, Jesuit High, Carmichael), Brent Noon (1989-90, Fallbrook High, Fallbrook) and Eric Mastalir (1985-86, Jesuit High, Carmichael). Selected from nearly 534,000 boys' high school track and field athletes nationwide, Nellum is now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year Award, to be presented at a special ceremony the afternoon prior to The ESPY Awards in July.
Being the best at two different distances that demand vastly different skill sets --the 200 and the 400 -- is exceedingly rare. No competitor at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympic Games finished in the top eight of both the 200 and 400 events. For the record, Nellum's best times this season would have placed him 7th in the 200 at the Athens Games and 8th in the 400.
"I've had the pleasure of seeing Bryshon mature on the track and as a young man," said Long Beach Poly coach Crystal Irving. "I see him as being one of our future Olympians and a college champion. Each time he stepped on the track, he stepped out with a goal."
Nellum has maintained a B average in the classroom and is an active member in his community. The senior has spent time volunteering at the local convalescent home and donating his time to the school's annual "Feed the Children" food giveaway. Nellum is also an enthusiastic youth leader and a mentor for young student-athletes.
National winners are selected not only for their outstanding athletic performance, but also for meeting high academic achievement standards while demonstrating exemplary personal character on and off the track oval. The selection process is administered by RISE Magazine, which works with top sport-specific experts and a media advisory board of accomplished, veteran prep sports journalists to determine the state winners in each sport, from which the national winner is chosen. The National Scholastic Sports Foundation served as the sport-specific chair of the 2006-07 track and field selection.
Gatorade's four national track and field athlete winners preceding Nellum are either competing for Division I collegiate programs or as a professional and a member of the USA Track & Field National Team. That group consists of 2005-06 winner David Klech (California High/San Ramon, Calif.), now at UCLA, and 2004-05 winner Ryan Whiting (Central Dauphin High/Harrisburg, Pa.), now at Arizona State University, along with 2003-04 winner Jason Richardson (Cedar Hill High, Cedar Hill, Texas), now at the University of South Carolina, and 2002-03 winner Kerron Clement (La Porte High, La Porte, Texas), now a national team competitor sponsored by Nike.
The Gatorade Player of the Year program recognizes one winner in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia that sanction high school football, girls' volleyball, boys' and girls' soccer, boys' and girls' basketball, baseball, softball, and boys' and girls' track & field.