Westover High School track & field athlete Tyler Sheffel won Region 1-AAAA championships in the 800- and 1,600-meter runs and ran the final leg on the Patriots’ 4x400 region-winning team to capture The Herald’s 2014 Johnny Seabrooks Player of the Year award for track & field. (Herald file photo)
ALBANY — Westover High School track & field coach Harley Calhoun looked across the Hugh Mills Stadium turf and noticed assistant coach Calvin Poole working with a young freshman athlete three years ago.
Poole was working with Tyler Sheffel, a solid runner who wasn’t going to wow track fans with his speed or his distance running.
“Tyler was always somewhat a little guy for his size,” Calhoun recalled. “But he always tried real hard. Every now and then he’d make his way to the front. I remember we had several older boys who would always make their way out front. Tyler would always give it everything he had and make them work a little harder to win. That’s the kind of athlete he was.”
Three years later, Sheffel’s hard work has paid off. As one of the top track & field athletes in Southwest Georgia, the Westover standout showed his versatility this season, winning Region 1-AAAA titles in the 800 and 1600 meters, then running the final leg of the Patriots’ 4x400 relay team that also captured the region crown.
Sheffel’s efforts earned him The Herald’s 2014 Johnny Seabrooks Player of the Year award for track & field.
Many considered the 2014 season a rebuilding season in boys competition, but Sheffel was a shining star. But his path to success was an uphill climb.
Despite being one of the fastest athletes during field day in elementary school, it took Sheffel some time to convince himself that he could be successful on a track & field team. His father ran track, and the younger Sheffel wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps.
In the spring of his eighth-grade season at Radium Springs Middle, Sheffel finally went out for the track & field team.
During time trials in the 800, Sheffel ended up with the second-best time. Like in 2014, he was solid in endurance running but also had good foot speed.
By the time Sheffel reached Westover a year later, he caught Calhoun’s attention — not with his ability but with his heart.
“He had determination, and he wasn’t scared of anybody,” said teammate Scott Sanders, who teamed with Sheffel, Jysanti Richardson and Qundez Carter on the 4x400 relay.
“Tyler was never one to run away from a challenge.”
Which is exactly why Calhoun believed Sheffel could be something special. For what he seemed to lack in talent, he made up for with his work ethic and heart.
“You are going to coach guys that make you look good as a coach,” Calhoun said. “Then you have those guys who work hard and once they start to win, they get better and better. Tyler was one of those kids. He never got satisfied and he was always hungry. He led by example. He wanted to win and he wanted everybody else to do well, too.
“He was the kind of kid who could win several events but if everybody else didn’t do well, he took it personal. He would tell me, ‘Coach, we’ll get them next time.’ “
After his freshman season, Sheffel ran cross country for Calhoun during the fall in order to increase his endurance. Near the end, he sprained an ankle that caused him to have a lot of foot problems and hampered him during the track & field season.
But Calhoun said Sheffel broke out last year as a junior. He didn’t always win his events, but Calhoun said he placed in the top three or four often and helped the Patriots earn points. In fact, he became an athlete the team could count on.
Sheffel earned a trip to the state meet last season in the 800 and gave Calhoun a glimpse of what he would do as a senior.
He didn’t disappoint during his final season. Sheffel qualified for the state meet once again, finishing seventh in Class AAAA in the 800.
“I’m really happy with how the season went,” Sheffel said. “The only thing I wish I would have done differently was run a little smarter at state. I improved in every event. It was a good season.”
Sheffel ran a 1:58.98 in the 800 at the L.C. Smith and Winfred Benson Relays earlier this season, then he joined Jaelon Benjamin, Carter and Chris Divra on the 1600 medley relay team to set a new Westover Relays record in the event when they finished with a time of 3:40.05, breaking the old mark of 3:42.26.
After the season, he earned a college scholarship to run track & field at Columbus State where he will be coached by J.D. Evilsizer, a legendary high school track & field coach in Alabama. In addition, former Westover track & field standout David Marley, a nine-time region champion and two-time defending state runner-up in the 800 and 1600, is Evilsizer’s assistant coach.
Calhoun said the Cougars will be getting an athlete whose work ethic is second to none.
“He’s not a big guy by a long shot,” Calhoun said of the 5-foot-8 Sheffel. “But there are athletes who are in the middle of the row, and they are satisfied with that. Tyler could have been like that. But he never quit, and his hard work helped him have a fantastic season.”
Sanders said Sheffel was always seeking to improve, which is why he also ran cross country. Sheffel improved his distance running as well, finishing third in the Region 1-AAAA meet and finishing 46th at the state meet.
“Tyler always had great foot speed,” Sanders said. ‘Then with his endurance from running cross country, you put the two together with his hard work and he became very good in the 800.”
To further display his athleticism, Sheffel also competed in the pole vault, helping the Patriots earn valuable team points in many meets this season.
Calhoun said Sheffel will be tough to replace.
“We’re going to miss him,” he said. “He had a great attitude, and he’s an even better person.
“The thing about Tyler is he is a testament to what hard work can do for you. He had a little bit of ability and a humongous heart. As he got older, his ability caught up with his heart.”
2014 ALBANY HERALD ALL-AREA BOYS TRACK & FIELD TEAM
Qundez Carter, So., Westover
WHY HE’S HERE: Keep an eye on this guy. Carter was a key member of Westover High School’s 4x400-meter relay team that won the Region 1-AAAA title with a time of 3:23.14 and finished sixth at state. He also established himself as the top athlete in the 300 hurdles, winning the region title with a time of 40.68 and advancing to the state meet.
Michael Cooper, Jr., Terrell County
WHY HE’S HERE: The area’s top athlete in the 110 hurdles, Cooper won the Class A public school state title with a time of 15.18. The junior bettered his performance this season after finishing second at state last year.
Malik Dungee-Ali, Jr., Albany
WHY HE’S HERE: A talented athlete who ran the final leg of Albany High’s 4x100 team that captured the Region 1-AAAA title. Dungee-Ali also was the region champion in the triple jump, finishing at 43-feet, 1-inch.
Robert Grooms, Jr., Lee County
WHY HE’S HERE: Grooms captured the Region 1-AAAAA title in the 400 after running a time of 51.41 at the region meet to qualify for state.
Chase Harris, Sr., Bainbridge
WHY HE’S HERE: One of the area’s top long-distance runners, Harris dominated at every big meet, winning the Region 1-AAAAA title in the 1600 and 3200. Harris finished third in Class AAAAA in the 3200 at the state meet.
Johnathan Jefferson, So., Albany
WHY HE’S HERE: Jefferson ran the third leg of Albany High’s 4x100 relay team that captured the Region 1-AAAA title with a time of 42.40. The team then ran a time of 42.15 in qualifying at the state meet. The Indians finished seventh at state after running a 42.57.
Thomas Langstaff, Jr., Westover
WHY HE’S HERE: Consistent winner all season for the Patriots in the pole vault. The Region 1-AAAA champion finished with a vault of 10-6 to qualify for the state meet.
Chris O’Neal, Sr., Westover
WHY HE’S HERE: O’Neal established himself as the guy to beat in the shot put, winning the event in just about every big meet. He qualified for the state meet after finishing as the Region 1-AAAA runner-up. He finished eighth at state with a throw of 49-10.
Antravious Parks, Jr., Westover
WHY HE’S HERE: Parks came on strong at the end of the season and captured the Region 1-AAAA title in the shot put. He finished fifth at the state meet with a throw of 52-3 ¼. This guy will only get better next season.
Jysanti Richardson, Jr., Westover
WHY HE’S HERE: A key member of Westover High School’s 4x400 relay team that won the Region 1-AAAA title with a time of 3:23.14 and finished sixth at state.
Rashawn Robinson, So., Monroe
WHY HE’S HERE: Robinson showed promise as a young distance runner for the Tornadoes. He won the 3200 with a time of 10:23.19. He finished 12th in Class AAAA at the state meet.
Scott Sanders, Sr., Westover
WHY HE’S HERE: A talented athlete who excelled in both field and running events. Sanders finished as Region 1-AAAA runner-up in the long jump and qualified for state where he finished seventh with a leap of 22-3. He also ran the first leg of the 4x400 relay team that won the region title (3:23.14) and finished sixth at state.
Xavier Smith, Sr., Early County
WHY HE’S HERE: Smith finished in a tie for third place in the high jump Class AA at the state meet in Jefferson after finishing with a jump of 6-feet, 6-inches.
McKinley West, Jr., Mitchell County
WHY HE’S HERE: An athlete with blistering speed, West claimed the Class A public school state title in the 200 with a time of 21.89. He also finished third at state in the 100. The junior’s best time this season was a 10.72 in the 100.
Akeem Williams, So., Albany
WHY HE’S HERE: Williams ran the second leg of Albany High’s 4x100 relay team that captured the Region 1-AAAA title with a time of 42.40. The team then ran a time of 42.15 in qualifying at the state meet. The Indians finished seventh at state after running a 42.57.
Gregory Williams, Sr., Albany
WHY HE’S HERE: Williams ran the first leg of Albany High’s 4x100 relay team that captured the Region 1-AAAA title with a time of 42.40. The team then ran a time of 42.15 in qualifying at the state meet. The Indians finished seventh at state after running a 42.57.
Javian Williams, So., Early County
WHY HE’S HERE: Williams made his mark in the triple jump competition, finishing fifth in Class AA at the state meet with a jump of 43-8 ½.
Brenton Wimberly, Sr., Westover
WHY HE’S HERE: Wimberly established himself as the top discus thrower in the area this season, winning the Region 1-AAAA title and finishing fourth at state. He threw 146-4 at the state meet in Jefferson.