Olympic gold medalist and NCAA champion Willie Smith instructs James Hancock Morris while he runs with parachutes on his backs, which provide wind resistance. It’s one of several speed, flexibility and agility drills at Smith’s camp.

By Robert Carter

The North Jefferson News

When Willie Smith talks to young athletes about going for the gold, he’s telling them about somewhere he’s already been.

The former Auburn track star has a gold medal from the United States’ 4-by-400 meter relay team at the 1984 games in Los Angeles. He likely would have another, had not the U.S. team boycotted the 1980 games in Moscow. And there’s a pair of NCAA indoor championships at 400 meters, eight All-America selections, two open national championships and more other victories than one can count. And a place in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

He even tried to make the 1996 Olympic squad at the ripe old age of 39, an effort that was chronicled in The New York Times.

Now into his 50s — and with a chiseled body that still looks like it is ready for the starter’s pistol — Smith has turned his attention to youth, helping them gain the speed and agility he enjoyed as a record-breaking high schooler in New York.

Smith has teamed with Alabama and NFL great Jeremiah Castille to create XL Athletic Performance. Among the duo’s endeavors are the agility camps that Smith has now brought to Gardendale. He’s running camps Tuesdays and Thursday at the Clemons Recreational Complex on Fieldstown Road.

It’s the sort of training that youngsters south of the city have had for years, but has been lacking from the northern suburbs.

“There’s a need here,” Smith says. “We’ve been doing this over-the-mountain since 1989. A couple of parents got with me to set something up here. It’s an absolutely perfect place.”

On Tuesday, Smith was running five pre-teen boys through their paces, having them run with small parachutes on their back for resistance, learning to stretch correctly for flexibility, or high-stepping through a chain ladder for agility.

“We’re starting off with small classes, taking it slow,” Smith says. “Parents may not understand yet what we’re trying to provide.”

Bob Hancock, whose son James is part of the classes, understands.

“James is real involved in all sports, and he wanted to get a little quicker,” Bob Hancock said.

“We want to do something like this year round,” Smith says. “They need to gain an edge in speed and quickness, right here.”

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