Feb. 17, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The Miami-to-Marshall pipeline has pumped out significant football talent for Coach Doc Holliday.
A by-product of that south Florida recruiting success has infused another Thundering Herd program, too.
In freshmen Kametra “MeeMee” Byrd and Hope Julmiste, Coach Jeff Small’s track and field team has two very promising sprinters for the future, and also a connection that could pave the way for more talent to make a move from Miami to Marshall.
Byrd and Julmiste arrived at Marshall in August, never having been to Huntington previously. They were recruited by former Herd track assistant coach Willie Johnson, who left last summer for Western Kentucky.
They are products of a great high school program at Miami Northwestern High, where Coach Carmen Jackson’s Lady Bulls will be seeking a ninth Florida state title in 10 years – and 11th since 1999 -- in 2014.
Just as important, perhaps, were the connections Byrd and Julmiste had were friendships from Miami with Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato, wideout Craig Wilkins and safety A.J. Leggett.
Johnson got the Herd’s foot in the door with Jackson, and now the feet of Julmiste and Byrd could help Marshall’s track program build the kind of Miami-rooted reputation Holliday’s football team has.
“When I was being recruited, about all I knew about Marshall was through the football team,” Julmiste said. “Cato went to Miami Central, which is our rival at Northwestern. The one I knew personally was Craig Wilkins. We went to the same middle school.
“I didn’t know Rakeem too well, but now we go to his house to chill. I was closer with Amos Leggett – no one called him A.J. down there – and Wilkins.”
When Marshall contacted Byrd, she tried to do some homework on the Herd.
“I came here sight-unseen,” she said. “I trusted my coach (Jackson). She knows a lot about college track, has sent a lot of athletes to college. I trusted Rakeem, trusted Amos Leggett. I knew him from a friend. I used to date Rakeem (when Byrd was a high school sophomore, she said). They told me I should come and not stay in Florida. They said it was a good place up here, good people.”
Byrd and Julmiste ran the 100 and 200 meters and the 4x100 relay in high school. Byrd’s best in the 100 was an 11.95 seconds, while Julmiste owns a 12.03. In the 200, Julmiste’s 25.06 clocking was .02 better than her teammate.
Running indoors this winter for the Herd, they’ve run in the 60 and 200, although Julmiste has recently returned after being sidelined for much of the season by a groin injury.
In the Spire D1 Invitational meet in Geneva, Ohio, over the weekend, Byrd ran a 7.78 in the second, while Julmiste posted a 7.84.
“Both ladies have done a good job for us,” said Don Yentes, Small’s veteran assistant coach who works with the Herd sprinters. “I'm sure coming to Marshall was a big change for them, coming from Miami. They both have the ability to become very good sprinters in Conference USA.
“Hope is kind of off to a slow start, as she has been dealing with the injury. MeeMee has been our best short sprinter so far, and is starting to run a better technical race. Hope is right on her heels though.”
It is the two sprinters’ trust in their former coach – the influential Jackson – that seems to have paved their route to the Herd.
“My high school coach knew Coach Johnson,” said Julmiste, who arrived in Huntington with Byrd on Aug. 19, Julmiste’s 18th birthday. “I was basically trusting what I heard on the phone from him. He called me a lot before we actually signed, getting to know me, telling me about the program, getting comfortable.
“He sold me everything about the school because I bought in. My coach trusted his coaching, and she’s like a second mother to me, so I trusted her to do what’s right. She wouldn’t steer me wrong.”
Byrd said after Johnson left Marshall for WKU, “I said, who recruits somebody and then they leave? I didn’t second-guess. Coach Carmen helped us a lot, and she said it’s up to you if you still want to go to Marshall. We heard good things. It’s not like we had a bond with (Johnson). No one is bigger than the program.”
That’s a lesson the duo learned from Jackson, whose Northwestern High program has what both Herd runners estimated as about a dozen current athletes in Division I track, at schools that include Miami, Clemson, Florida, Hampton, Ole Miss, Jackson State, North Carolina A&T – and now Marshall.
“Coach Jackson, she was more concerned with getting kids out of high school and into college than winning those championships,” Julmiste said. “All the seniors, her main goal is to get them into college. And the only reason they won’t go Division I is something with grades or something like that.
“And even if you don’t have the times or distances, college coaches trust her so much and know what kind of athletes she has. They trust her work ethic; her athletes will get somewhere and be prepared to work hard.”
Byrd said Jackson’s emphasis on success in multiple ways paved the way for her to be a Division I athlete.
“You would think, since I died every day in high school practicing, I’d be used to it, but this is 10 times harder,” Byrd said. “She is trying to prepare you because she knows what’s ahead. Coach Jackson won but she never cared about winning.
“She only cared about the girls, good academics, made sure her athletes got to school, whether it was D1, D2, D3, she just wanted to make sure you got to school and had an opportunity.”
While Byrd and Julmiste have seized that opportunity in a program that will finally get a real track oval when the Herd’s Indoor Athletic Facility opens in 2014-15, they have found the transition testing and unique.
“We never ran indoors before here,” Julmiste said. “Being from Florida, we don’t have indoor track in high school. A lot of the girls here, they’ve run indoors in high schools, so for us it’s an adjustment. The lanes are thinner, turns are tighter.
‘It’s just a transition. Competition is the same, but on a whole another level. You’re used to winning a lot in high school. You come to college, and you’re not at top of the sport anymore. It’s way more intense. “The work ethic is a little more … With Coach Jackson, her main thing is to train us to be great, so a lot of things we did in high school other high schools don’t do. When I got here, it was a lot of the same thing, just more.”
Julmiste said running the “roundabouts” during September conditioning in Edwards Stadium – up and down the steps of every section, all around the stadium interior, twice –was “the toughest thing I’ve ever done.”
Byrd said she has found similar challenges.
“Running indoors is hard,” she said. “You’d think it would be easier because it’s indoors, no weather, it looks shorter, but there’s no wind indoors. I thought it would be easy, but it’s not and how you transition from outdoors with the lanes and in the curves, it’s different.
“College track is a whole another deal, competitive, no babysitting, no one worried about you. You’re part of a team. Either you’re running or you’re not running. You do your work. People’s jobs are on the line and no one is going to lose their job because you won’t work. You have to run, have to compete every day.
“When we started running to the (Ritter) park, to the hills, the conditioning was the worst I ever felt, I think. There are no hills in Miami. It was all new.”
A Miami-to-Marshall move isn’t anything new … first football, now track and field.
“Our coach (Jackson) will check our times, see how we’re doing,” Julmiste said. “People in Miami know about Marshall and maybe other (track athletes) will follow us.”