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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Just as the rain clouds began to roll in and cast a shadow over Gainesville, Willie Perry started to light up the track.

The sprinter's electric performance led the UF track and field team to a strong showing in its only home meet of the season, the Florida Relays.

After spending all year watching his classmates on other Gators squads compete on campus, it was finally Perry's turn to show what he could do.

He didn't disappoint.

The junior raced his way to a second-place finish in the 100-meter dash on Friday. His time of 10.19 seconds ranks as the fifth-fastest in the world this year and second in the NCAA.

"You know when we have a meet here, it's going to be big," Perry said. "All fall, I would go watch all of my friends that play other sports, and they would always ask me when they were going to get a chance to come check me out.

"It's a great feeling having everyone here watching. I've been showing them a good time."

Perry finished .04 seconds behind Olympic hopeful and former LSU football star Xavier Carter in the 100. Carter's time of 10.15 seconds is the third-fastest in the world this year.

Perry continued his success on Saturday in spectacular fashion, capturing first place in the 200-meter dash in a come-from-behind victory.

His mark of 20.4 seconds was a career best. The time is also an NCAA best this season.

"We always knew that Will was a great athlete," UF track and field coach Mike Holloway said. "When he's focused, the sky's the limit for him. He's really dialed in right now."

The UF 4x100-meter relay continued to impress. Anchored by Perry, the Gators ran their way to a first-place finish among college athletes.

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"We're getting faster with every race," freshman Terrell Wilks said. "We've got the speed. It's just all about moving the stick right now. We're going to get that (Southeastern Conference) Championship."

The relay team took home the Dick Jones Award for finishing as the top collegians in the event, which also hosted high schoolers.

Lakecia Ealey got things going on the women's side, taking second in the 100-meter dash.

Her time of 11.35 seconds was a career-best and ranks third in the NCAA this season.

Ealey also won the 200-meter dash.

"We always thought that the 200 could be a great event for Lakecia," Holloway said. "She really got out there and went for it."

Junior Adam Montague made a triumphant return to Percy Beard Track, winning the javelin with a throw of 73.84 meters. It was the North Carolina transfer's first time competing in Gainesville since he won the NCAA East Regional in the event for the Tar Heels in 2007.

Though the final few events of the meet were canceled Saturday due to rain, the Gators were still able to pile up an impressive 14 event wins and 29 NCAA regional-qualifying marks on the weekend.

"We're all coming together," Perry said. "It's all one heartbeat right now."

DEMPS FLIES IN 100

As if he didn't already have enough, it looks like UF football coach Urban Meyer is getting even more speed to add to his stable. Southlake Groveland High's Jeff Demps, who will play football for the Gators in the fall, ran a 10.17-second 100-meter dash Friday.

His mark was the fastest high school time in the country and the third-fastest in the world at the time.

"It felt great," Demps said. "I knew I had come out and show everyone what I got.

However, his time was eclipsed later in the day by Xavier Carter, leaving him with the fourth-fastest time in the world.

He was only .02 seconds off the all-time high school record set by Henry Neal in 1990.

Demps, who ran for 3,162 yards in his last two seasons at South Lake, will likely play tailback and wide receiver for the Gators, and he also plans to continue his track career.

He led his high school team in the 4x100-meter relay on Saturday and was greeted by current UF running back and future teammate Emmanuel Moody after the race.

"I love it," Demps said of the UF squad. "It's like we're already family."

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