Jamaad Muse carefully stepped with his right foot and then his left. His knees rose to his waist in the form of a slow-motion sprint, and Muse made sure his technique was perfect.
Each of the sprinter's steps was punctuated with the thud of his black Nikes against the track, the only sound he emitted despite the jovial surroundings at Timber Creek's lighthearted practice on the last day before Easter break.
Less than 50 feet from Muse, a group of his friends and teammates talked and laughed throughout parts of the workout. Muse was in that group before practice, but now it was time to work. Muse didn't say a word throughout the 45-minute session, aside from a quiet conversation with his coach regarding technique.
"I'm different out on the track than I am in school," Muse said. "What separates the men from the boys is going out there and doing what you have to do. If you're not willing to put in the hard work, then you're going to fall behind. . . . On the track, it's business."
Muse understands his more vocal teammates. He used to approach practices the same way. This year, though, he wants more.
Muse, a University of Houston recruit, won the Group 3 200- and 400-meter dashes and finished second in the 100 last year. In the Meet of Champions, he helped his team by entering only the 400 and participating in two relays, a win in the 4x100 and a second-place finish in the 4x400.
His individual race changed his practice demeanor and led to a new level of focus. Muse finished second in the 400 and knew he had to work to improve.
"I've been watching the video to see where I came weak at," said Muse, who has worked on his breathing and technique. "I've been practicing where I came weak, and now I'm strong at that part. Now I'm just performing those things every day at practice. . . . I was just running out there with all strength. It was just strength. I wasn't using technique."
"He's the kind of kid you don't have to tell much," Timber Creek coach Chris Grottini said. "He works hard, and he understands he's going to get out whatever he puts into it. He's not always the first one to the track, but he's definitely the last one to leave."
Muse wants to win all the events he does this year. He listed the 100, 200, and 400 individual races and relays as possibilities.
"When it comes down to the individual events, it's all or nothing," he said.
Muse will start to push toward his goals at Saturday's Woodbury Relays, which Grottini referred to as "kickoff weekend" after taking a slow approach to the start of the season. The following week, Muse will participate in the Penn Relays before getting into May's state meets for which he has worked.
"Going into Penn Relays, I'll be more motivated depending on what I do at Woodbury Relays," Muse said. "I'll just work off of there."
Muse will continue to work quietly, but he expects a lot to talk about at the end of the season.