TRACK STAR Khaliff Featherstone, of Simon Gratz High, likes to think he can really run . . . his mouth.
So when he enters college in September 2008, a year later than originally expected (he's ahead on credits and could have graduated this June), he intends to major in communications with designs on becoming the next Montel Williams.
"Having a talk show, that would fit me well," Featherstone said. "I like to talk and I'm a funny person. So why not have a job where I can do both?"
Pause. "But on the same note, I would also be serious because there are issues that need to be discussed."
Assuming that Featherstone follows through with his plan, he could be famous by the time he picks up the microphone. Already, he's quite the talk of the track world.
When discussing the 5-10, 145-pound Featherstone outside a classroom one day earlier this week, Gratz coach Robert Massie said several times, "His potential is unlimited."
He added that Featherstone is competent-to-outstanding in everything from 100 meters to the 3.1-mile cross country course at Belmont Plateau and that "such range is truly incredible."
This is Penn Relays week, however, where the main focus is the passing of batons. Featherstone is ready and more than willing.
In fact, he prefers group work to solo acts because of the camaraderie and the spectators' persistently frenzied response.
Gratz will concentrate on the 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 relays. Massie said his tentative lineups include senior Jerry Wells, Featherstone and juniors Frank Wainwright and Jonathan Williams in the first, and senior Jihad Allen-Bey, Wainwright, freshman Darien Gordon and Featherstone in the second.
Only Featherstone was a member of the 4 x 1, 4 x 4 and 4 x 800 teams that last spring stormed to triple titles in the PIAA state championships, won by Gratz in the AAA classification.
"I'm not sure we have great expectations right now," Featherstone said. "We're still getting guys trained for what needs to be done and how relays are supposed to be run. Maybe we can show a little taste of what we could do next year."
Featherstone began immersing himself in running as a third-grader at Logan Elementary.
"Mr. Mark Gillinger, our gym teacher, had an exercise program and we'd go outside a lot," Featherstone said. "He noticed I was always beating the other kids and he offered me the chance to join a track program he had going. I did extremely well.
"After hearing from so many people, 'You're fast . . . you're fast,' you start to realize you are."
Fast does not always equal confident. And assuredly does not lead to complacency.
"I could be the most talented person on the track, but I am terrified of everyone," he said. "My coaches are always saying, 'The way you run, how can you be afraid?' I don't understand it, but that's how it is. I start feeling anxiety a day before I run and I still have it until a half-hour before I race.
"Now, when I get out there, my adrenaline kicks in and I use it to my advantage. And then, after I'm done, phew, I feel better."
These feelings are rather recent.
"When I was younger, I always knew I was going to beat you like that," he said, snapping his fingers for emphasis. "But now you know times and who's good and everything's more involved."
When asked to detail the highlight of his career, Featherstone listed one and then another and then finally asked, with a sheepish smile on his face, "Is it OK if I give you a third one?"
He treasures the threepack of state relay titles last spring, making it to Penn Relays Championships of America last year in the 4 x 4 and 4 x 8, and winning the state indoor 400 title as a freshman.
Massie said Featherstone has run splits of 47.8 for 400 and 1:51.90 for 800 and numerous 21s for 200. He has not yet run many open 800s, but that will change this spring; both picture that being his primary event in college.
Featherstone's life has included some trying situations. Though he remains in touch with family members, he spent time as an emancipated minor and now lives on his own in an apartment near 16th and Butler.
His first thought was to graduate this year. He changed his mind, he said, when college coaches advised him another year of improvement could increase the percentage of scholarship money he'd be able to receive. His eyes are currently set on Louisville and Louisiana State.
"And if I'd say a third one . . . ah, we'll just go with that," he said. "I can't decide."
But he can run, and talk, and Montel won't have his show forever. *