Nottingham High senior Kenley Souffrant wins the 800-meter run at West Windsor-Plainsboro South April 12, 2017. Souffrant has run the event as fast as 1:56. (Staff photo by Samantha Sciarrotta.)

So, what do you call the 800-meter race? A sprint? A distance race?

Nottingham coach Jason Marasco has the answer.

“It’s the hardest freaking race on the track, that’s what we call it,” Marasco said. “You’ve gotta have a lot of guts to run it.”

Which is exactly what Northstars senior Kenley Souffrant has—a lot of guts with a lot of faith in God. Souffrant is looking to study ministry and counseling in college and right now is focused on Nyack in New York (along with other options). He also wants to run track, specifically the dreaded 800.

“It’s considered a sprint but it’s mid-distance,” Marasco said. “It’s the hardest race on the track, and someone at his level, he’s basically almost sprinting for two straight laps. Most kids can’t sprint one lap, let alone twice.”

It took time for Souffrant to understand it.

“I really didn’t know exactly what I was doing the first time,” Souffrant said. “I was just a freshman going as fast as I could before I got through the second lap. Oh, I was dying. I was still smiling though.”

Souffrant likes to smile. He enjoys life and enjoys running. But when he came out for track in ninth grade, he thought that running would entail the 100, 200 and 400.

“I was always fast,” he said. “My teachers used to say, ‘One day you’re going to be in the Olympics, make sure you remember me.’”

Marasco and sprints coach Jon Adams made Kenley a 200 and 400 runner, along with putting him in the 400 relay. They thought they saw something in him, however, and had him run an 800 at one practice.

“We just knew, so we said let’s just try it,” Marasco said. “The first time we did it in practice he ran like a 2:04, and we’re like ‘Holy cow! You’re running the eight!’ That was unreal. He’s been running the eight ever since.”

Initially, Souffrant was not happy he did so well, since it took him away from the sprints he liked.

“It took a while for me to really accept it,” he said. “I think it was my sophomore year at the (Colonial Valley Conference) freshman-sophomore meet, I made a 1:58. That’s when I really realized this is my event and I should really stick to it.”

Like a lot of quality 800 runners, it is the only event Souffrant runs, along with the 4×400.

“I’m not trying to toot his horn—but he is an elite 800 runner,” Marasco said. “For someone like him who runs the 800, he needs to be fully charged and not tired. He’s run a 1:56 before, which would place at the Meet of Champs. He’s a freaking thoroughbred, I don’t want to wear him out in dual meets during the season, it’s not worth it when I know he can win Central Jersey Group III and make it to Meet of Champs and all that. The postseason is way more important.”

Nottingham High senior Kenley Souffrant wins the 800-meter run at West Windsor-Plainsboro South April 12, 2017. Souffrant has run the event as fast as 1:56. (Staff photo by Samantha Sciarrotta.)

The handling of Souffrant has been done correctly considering his success. Kenley won the aforementioned CVC Sophomore meet in 2015. He went on to finish second in Central Jersey Group III in 1:58.61 and 16th in Group III states in 1:59.9.

Last year in indoor track, he finished second in the Central Jersey Group III meet in 2:01.78 and was 11th in Group III states at 2:01.67. In spring, he took fifth at the Mercer County Meet (1:58), fourth at CJ III (1:59.12) and just missed getting to the Meet of Champs with an 8th in a very fast Group III meet (1:57.11).

This past December, Souffrant got the winter track season off to a rousing start with a career best 1:56.70 in the Marine Corps Holiday Classic at the Armory in New York. Unfortunately, he hurt his Achilles in that race, and it bothered him to the point he could not compete in the major indoor meets.

The senior has slowly been rounding into shape, and won his first two outdoor dual meets this spring.

“I’m still trying to get going to get back to where I was,” Souffrant said near the end of April. “I’m still running but the coaches have me thinking about the future and not so much what’s going on now.”

Like any smart runner, Souffrant has changed his approach to the 800 as he has matured. He would initially just run all out all the time, “and use all my strength and force to get through a race.” He now knows how to pace himself, and picks his pace according to the opponent.

“It depends on who I’m racing,” Souffrant said. “I would like to stay behind that one person and when it gets to that second lap that’s when I start to pick it up and use as much as I can to keep moving forward.”

Marasco noted that as a freshman, they tried to get Souffrant to run around a 60-second first lap and go from there. Now, they hope is that he can run between 56 and 57 seconds in the first 400.

Kenley’s workouts include distance runs, followed by workouts in the 400 and 600. And he doesn’t skimp.

“You’ve got to be a real hard worker to do the 800, you can’t cheat on the runs,” Marasco said. “The stopwatch doesn’t lie. If you’re dogging it, your times are gonna go down.”

He compared it to the other sport in which he is a head coach.

“It’s like wrestling,” Marasco said. “If you don’t work hard, you’re gonna fade by that second period. There’s nowhere to hide on the track. In football, you can hide behind your stud linebacker and barely make a play all game, but in track and wrestling there’s nowhere to hide. Everybody knows you, everybody can see you.”

For Souffrant, however, it is more than just training hard. He has a mental approach that relaxes and energizes him all at once.

“I get my encouragement from praying,” he said. “Before meets, I get my mind in focus by listening to music, praying, then getting myself relaxed and calm. Then just let God lead the way, and I will follow. My faith is a huge thing for me. I gain my confidence from praying and using God as my encouragement and my strength.”

And while Souffrant has faith in God, Marasco has faith in Souffrant.

“Dude, if he can stay healthy, he’s definitely going to Meet of Champs,” the coach said. “Only a handful of guys are back from spring track last year. A lot of those elite guys that were running 1:58, 1:59; they graduated. If he can stay healthy and get himself to that 1:56 mark, he’ll be in contention for the whole thing.”