Prep track: GW's Brafford looks to emerge from long shadow
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Every so often, no matter how great an athlete or team is, there is a seemingly larger-than-life roadblock standing in the way of reaching the full potential.
For George Washington standout Matthew Brafford and the entire state, Cabell Midland senior Jacob Burcham poses as a huge obstacle.
Burcham, a seven-time state champion, is the two-time reigning McCoy Award winner as the best track and field athlete in the state both at the high school or college level. He has signed at Division I Oklahoma.
Brafford, though, is also one of the state's best. The GW junior qualified for the State Meet by winning the Class AAA Region 3 championship in the 1600- and 3200-meter run at University of Charleston Stadium on Wednesday.
"I'm really trying to make a name for myself," Brafford said. "Being a junior, it's the most important year for me to get my times down and get my placing up to make sure the colleges will notice me."
Brafford is ranked fifth in the state overall by Runwv.com and has set the second-fastest time of anyone in the state behind Burcham in his two best events, the 1600 and 3200.
"It feels good to know all my hard work is paying off and showing throughout the whole state," Brafford said. "It's good to have that recognition."
Brafford is hoping to set a couple school records at GW, as well.
"In the two-mile (3200), I'm a half-second off and in the one-mile (1600), I'm one second away," he said. "I'm going to try and beat the school record. It's really important and would be pretty near to have my name in the school."
Despite all of his accomplishments, Brafford knows that Burcham is the standard bearer and that every athlete owes a lot to the Midland senior.
"Everybody in the state looks up to him and wants to be up there in the spot light with him," Brafford said. "If he wasn't here, none of us would be where we are today."
Patriots Coach Brent Walker agrees.
"Jacob is the elite and the standard in which everyone looks to," Walker said. "It's tough because the state is full of some great 3200-meter guys."
Despite knowing that Burcham is seemingly in a class by himself, Walker indicated that Brafford isn't intimidated and is capable of doing big things at next week's State Meet.
"Clearly, we are there now and want to win it," Walker said. "Matthew has proven time and time again that he belongs right up there. I won't count him out. He believes he can win. Anything can happen."
Walker couldn't be prouder of Brafford's accomplishments throughout his career, especially this season.
"He has consistently been No. 2 all year," Walker said. "He deserves everything good that comes his way. Matthew has run better than he ever has. The school is very proud of him."
No matter what happens at the State Meet next week, Burcham will graduate, seemingly opening the door for even bigger and better things for Brafford next season.
"If it's not this year, he will have that opportunity next year," Walker said. "He will have his time, and he will take full advantage of it. Next year will be the year for him. It's been a great journey."
The George Washington standout agrees that next season could be big for him.
"Next year might be the year for me," Brafford said. "It's the year that everything opens up and maybe I can get some of the spotlight on me."