The race required that Eric Futch exert himself for 400 meters of hurdling, against a field that included sprinters from Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago, not to mention some of the best from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.

Curiously, it wasn't anything Futch did with his legs that tipped off Penn Wood coach Lenny Jordan that his guy had the race in the bag.

"I can usually tell when Eric's ready to go because his shoulders shrug," Jordan said. "When he hit hurdle number seven, his shoulders shrugged and I knew he was going to put it on G-blast."

Futch shrugged, then shrugged off the rest of the field, becoming the first Pennsylvania runner to win the high school boys' 400 hurdles championship, a race instituted in 1991, Saturday morning at the Penn Relays.

Futch won in 51.77 seconds, the event's fastest time in the nation this year. It tied for sixth-best in Penn Relays history, matching the 1991 time of Jamaica's Terrence McCrae.

Futch sat in fourth place until the race's final turn, when, post shrug, he kicked into high gear for a spirited final 100 meters in which he torched the front-runners.

"I get out, relax, and try to pick it up on the back stretch, on the last curve," Futch said. "That's exactly what I did, and I came out with the victory.

"I knew once the kid from Jamaica [Javarn Gallimore] went past me - actually, I thought he was going to keep going. Once I got next to him, he had messed up on the hurdle and that's when I knew I had the race."

Gallimore, the race's top seed, clipped a hurdle with his foot at the final turn, ultimately falling to sixth. Bay Shore's Kadesh Roberts placed second in 52.43.

Said Futch: "It seems like [Gallimore] was slowing down a little bit, seems like he hit the wall and I still had a lot more in me. I could have gone faster than 51.77."

The time would have been good for third place in the Olympic development men's 400 hurdles, but was not a personal best for Futch, a 5-foot-11, 160-pound senior committed to Houston. He won the AAU Junior Olympic Games with a time of 51.67 last July in New Orleans.

Here's the amazing part: Futch doesn't practice the hurdles. In fact, he hadn't competed in this event since he won in New Orleans nearly nine months ago.

"I do my workout with the team and sometimes if I feel as though I need to work on something, that's when I pull the hurdles out," Futch said. "But I don't practice hurdles. I just go to the meet and run them."

The victory is the latest in an illustrious stretch for Futch. Last spring, he claimed the PIAA 300-meter hurdle outdoor title (the 400 is not a PIAA-sanctioned event), breaking a 29-year-old record. Summer brought the Junior Olympic title.

This winter, during the indoor season, he won state titles in the 200 dash and as part of the Patriots' 4x200 and 4x400 relays. In late December at the Bishop Loughlin Games at the New York Armory, he ran the 300 in 33.56, also the country's fastest time indoors this year.

Saturday was the first time Futch competed in an individual race at the carnival. He was seeded third for the 9 a.m. event, and arrived 90 minutes prior to warm up for the early start time on a brisk morning in Franklin Field.

Futch was not granted entry into the race last year.

"We ran faster than a lot of the guys that they put in the meet last year," Jordan said. ". . . It was kind of a redemption thing for him. He was determined to make everybody regret the fact that they didn't put him in last year."