Boys track and field: Leap of faith pays off for Antioch's Grindley
The path that Zach Grindley finds himself on, which includes narrow and blacktopped runways, differs greatly from the one when he entered high school.
Athletic, long and left-handed, he had seemingly a strong baseball future ahead of him, maybe even at the college level. That is, if football didn't work out.
"I knew that I wanted to try to play football at the next level," said Grindley, an Antioch senior. "That was the plan all four years of high school, to just grind out football. But then I kept getting hurt and banged up."
Grindley slipped a disc in his back his junior year of football. He dislocated his shoulder against Lakes last fall. Before the injuries, however, came a more significant development in his athletic career. Baseball wasn't as fun as it used to be. It wasn't that the lefty couldn't find an edge of home plate. He just lost an edge.
"I played baseball my entire life and I kind of got burned out with it and wanted to switch it up," said Grindley, who also played center field. "Coach Glas (Sequoits head football coach Brian Glashagel) had been begging me to run track. I thought I'd give it a try."
Fastball down the middle.
Grindley gave up baseball following his sophomore year, and it's been a home run for Antioch's track and field team, which won Friday's Class 3A Rockford Guilford sectional. The feat followed Lake County and Northern Lake County Conference championships for the Sequoits.
Grindley swept the high jump, long jump and triple jump in all three competitions. Friday, his winning numbers were 6-5 (high jump), 22-3 (long jump) and 44-3 (triple jump).
"I wouldn't say I wasn't finding (baseball) fun anymore, but I was playing travel during the summer, fall and spring," Grindley said. "It was nonstop baseball. I just wanted a break from it."
Now, he's breaking school records and keeps raising the bar, so to speak. He was seeded first in all three jumps in the sectional and was also scheduled to run on the 400-meter relay. Last year, as a first-year track athlete, Grindley qualified for state in the long jump.
An all-conference wide receiver for the Sequoits' NLCC championship football team that advanced to the state quarterfinals, the 6-foot-3, 175-pounder ran the 40-yard dash in a school-record 4.5 seconds in the football combine. He played football and basketball all four years of high school.
But that's in the past. His new path will lead him to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where he will compete track and field and study pre-med.
"Zach is a tremendous athlete," Antioch track coach Chris Bailey said. "He is exceptionally fast. He's ridiculously explosive. He is still pretty raw when it comes to jumping. He will benefit from going to La Crosse and competing for four more years. His technique will improve as he practices and competes year-round for track."
The improvement keeps coming rapidly for the youngest of two children of David and Nancy. At the Grayslake Central-hosted NLCC meet last week, Grindley broke his own school record in the long jump, leaping 22-9. He triple-jumped a season-best 45-4 and high-jumped 6-1 (4 inches shy of his season best). The long-jump and triple-jump marks set conference records.
"I would say either long jump or triple jump is my best (event) right now," Grindley said. "I finally figured out my second phase in triple jump and added 3 feet."
And to think, a couple of years ago, he probably would have been happy to find extra feet on his fastball. A year ago, as a jumps novice, he relied mainly on athleticism.
"Coach Bailey threw me into the long jump my first meet," Grindley said. "He just told me, 'Run fast and jump as far as you can.' It went a long way."
As Grindley keeps sailing through the air and traveling a long way, tape measures aren't always needed to confirm his talent. Former Antioch track coach Norm Hahn, a fixture on the sidelines at Antioch sporting events, still attends Sequoits meets. He's seen hundreds of jumpers.
"Coach Hahn is always at our track meets," Grindley said. "He says every time I run it looks graceful because I'm so tall and I make it look easy."
Coincidentally, Grindley is easygoing.
"He has a laid-back approach to sports, which I think has helped him in track," Bailey said. "He doesn't get too high or too low from his results. If he jumps great, he smiles, and that's about as excited as I see him. If he has a bad jump, he doesn't dwell on it and moves on to the next jump."
And, like with his decision to switch sports two years ago, he does so with conviction.