From baseball in Miami to football in West Palm Beach and track in Gainesville, junior Eddie Lovett has stayed busy his entire life.
Lovett is the three-time reigning Southeastern Conference and NCAA champion in the men’s 60m hurdles. Lovett set the fourth fastest time in collegiate history when he clocked a time of 7.50 seconds at the NCAA Indoor Champioships this year, but he had never planned to step foot on a track.
Born in Miami to a mother who played high school basketball and a father who played minor league baseball, Lovett was destined to become an athlete.
Lovett’s father, Eddie Williams, was a second-round draft selection for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1991. Williams showed considerable promise as a prospect, being named to USA Today’s 1991 Super 25 along with future MLB stars Manny Ramirez, Shawn Green, Cliff Floyd and Dmitri Young. Had it not been for a car accident in 1993, Williams might have reached his full potential.
Lovett’s first athletic venture was baseball, but his foray into the sport was short-lived. His first real passion was football. Track wasn’t even on his radar.
“I played football my whole life,” he said. “I never thought about running track. When I was in the sixth grade, I went out on the track one day. Back then, I was super skinny, and they thought I was a distance runner. I was doing like four, five, six laps, and I was like, ‘No, this is not what I want,’ so I quit.”
After living in Miami for much of his childhood, Lovett and his family moved to West Palm Beach.
“My mom just wanted to get out of [Miami]. There was a lot of stuff dealing with my family, so she just wanted to relocate,” Lovett said.
Lovett said the move was ultimately good for him, but he struggled with the transition.
“It was different at first. I didn’t have the family that I had (in Miami),” he said. “I had to learn to adjust to the people, especially the girls. ”
The move to West Palm Beach catalyzed Lovett’s athletic career. Football was still at the forefront for Lovett, who thrived on the freshman and then the varsity team..
Football was his top priority. He did not start running track until he was a sophomore at Palm Beach Lakes High.
“My first time winning the state title (as a junior), I was thinking about transferring to Dwyer just to play football,” he said. “I talked to my family, and at the last second, I decided to stay. That summer, I went in really focused on football.”
But Lovett’s focus on football was for naught. He suffered a broken arm three games into his senior season.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Lovett said. “I didn’t know how I was going to play football. What if broke my arm again? What if it was going to affect me in track?”
With football out of the picture, Lovett switched his focus to track and dominated.
As a senior, he broke a 20-year-old FHSAA record in the boys’ 110m hurdles, winning the Class 3A championship in a time of 13.46 seconds, which led the nation.
Florida coach Mike Holloway took notice.
“I actually got a call from one of the alumni’s father,” Holloway said. “Then, I got a call from (Olympian and former Gator) Tony McQuay’s high school coach (Carnell Coleman). He told me, ‘There’s a guy down here that you need to take a look at.’”
Holloway’s network of trusted colleagues raved about Lovett’s talent. Lovett’s coach at Palm Beach Lakes, Jerome Groover, had the highest praise for the senior hurdler.
“I’ve known Eddie’s high school coach since I was a high school coach,” Holloway said. “Jerome told me, ‘Look, I think this might be the best guy I’ve ever had,’ which is saying a lot, because he’s had some good ones.”
Lovett’s talent and Groover’s confidence resulted in a scholarship offer.
After arriving at Florida, Lovett lived up to the lofty expectations set by those around him. His freshman year, he became an SEC champion and Men’s Indoor Freshman Track & Field Runner of the Year. He was the SEC champion again his sophomore year, and he was the youngest competitor in the men’s 110m hurdles at the U.S. Olympic Trials, making it all the way to the semifinals. Lovett’s PR of 13.49 at the trials moved him into second all-time in Florida school history.
Lovett’s trajectory was skyrocketing at UF. It was a comeback story for an athlete who had broken his arm and almost lost all hope for a future in sports.
But all the success and accolades Lovett had merited were suddenly put on hold last summer.
On July 18, 2012, a little over a week after posting a top-five finish at nationals, Lovett’s father was shot and killed in his native Virgin Islands. Williams was found unresponsive in the drivers’ seat of his car that morning.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking detail was that Lovett was rekindling what was once a tumultuous relationship with his father.
With a heavy heart, Lovett has continued to perform this season. He set a meet record at the Indoor Championships in March.
“The minute you get complacent is the minute you make a mistake and look like a fool,” he said. “I’m never satisfied. Even when I have good practices, I feel like I could’ve done better. I’m really competitive. I’m cool and laid back, but if you give me a challenge I’ll probably show you out.”
Added Holloway: “Eddie is the kind of guy where he could have a perfect start and still say it wasn’t.”
Lovett’s success has not surprised Holloway. The Gators coach knew he could trust Groover’s advice.
“A hurdler is a sprinter with an attitude, and that describes Eddie Lovett to a T,” Holloway said. “He’s a sprinter with an attitude when it comes to the sticks. He’s fast. He’s aggressive. You can’t be fearful and be a great hurdler. You can’t be afraid of the sticks.”
Since his football career ended prematurely, Lovett shifted his focus to track and earned results. Although he has already won big at Florida, he has set his sights even higher.
Lovett will compete in his third NCAA Outdoor Championship in as many years tonight at 8:20; he will run in the prelims in the 110m hurdles – his only event.
“I know what it feels like to hunt,” Lovett said. “My mentality is: ‘I’m No. 1 in the NCAA, but I’m not No. 1 in the U.S. I’m not No. 1 in the world.’”
Eddie Lovett leaps over a hurdle during a NCAA East Preliminary Round in Greensboro, N.C., on May 24. Lovett will compete in the 110m hurdles tonight at 8:20.