0522 Blackwell

Draughn senior Tommy Blackwell on Thursday signed with Catawba College for track. He is flanked on the front row (from left) by brother Blaine, mother Lori, father Tod and brother Hampton. Standing (from left) are DHS athletic director Doug Hallyburton, track coach Steve Shuping and principal Shane Gardner.

VALDESE — After outpacing the competition for much of his high school career, Draughn senior Tommy Blackwell is aiming for more success at the next level.

The Wildcats’ standout signed on Thursday with Catawba College for track, planning to run the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, and Blackwell also intends to compete with the Indians’ cross country squad during his time in Salisbury.

“I talked to the coaches, we had a Zoom meeting and they showed me around the campus and talked about the team culture and how dedicated everybody is to getting better,” Blackwell said. “I’m really excited and really motivated to get better. I love running. That’s my passion. And everybody else there is the same way — they love running just as much as me. It feels like a family, and I’m super-excited and ready.”

Though the spring sports season was cut short by COVID-19, Blackwell still made his mark at DHS as a senior when he qualified for the NCHSAA 2A cross country state championships, placing a county-best 22nd individually, after finishing tops in the county in 14th at the 2A West Regionals. He also was a member of two state-qualifying swimming relay teams for Draughn.

His junior track season ended with accolades as he was named the Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference’s distance runner of the year. At that season’s 2A West Regional, Blackwell placed seventh in the boys 3200. He was first in the conference in both that event and the 1600, qualifying for regionals in both events.

Blackwell said his favorite memory as a Wildcat also came as a junior when the Draughn boys cross country team won the NWFAC championship. Blackwell won all three NWFAC regular-season meets that year, as well as the Burke County championship meet.

DHS track coach Steve Shuping credited Blackwell’s tremendous effort for his prep success and what he believes will be a standout college career.

“His work ethic is phenomenal,” Shuping said. “It’s like he wants to do more work than the workout requires. With independent work, we have to pull the reins back on him because he wants to do too much. He does a phenomenal job motivating others around him, as well.

“The positive energy that he exudes, his fellow seniors and the underclassmen just feed off of it. He’ll do well. He’ll be successful at Catawba and he’ll be part of a really strong program. He’ll just make them that much better.”

The Catawba track and field program is led by head coach Jason Bryan. The Indians’ men placed sixth at last year’s South Atlantic Conference championships in Hickory.

Blackwell plans to major in nursing while at Catawba.

Justin Epley is a staff writer for The News Herald. He can be reached at jepley@morganton.com.

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