By JERRY BYRD JR., Journal Sports
It’s not really fair to compare any distance runner to one of America’s legendary running figures, early 1970s superstar Steve Prefontaine. Not fair at all, especially for a kid from Benton, Louisiana. But you can’t overlook some common traits.
Benton’s Mason Haley looks the part. Mullet? Check. Mustache? Check.
It’s not just his appearance. Any wannabe can play dress up. Haley possesses the “I’m going to break your spirit” mindset that was standard for Pre, whose life story as a global sensation inspired two movies.
To Haley’s coaches, he is a great kid, a coachable kid, and a fierce competitor.
“You ask him to do something, and he is going to do it exactly like you ask him,” Benton head cross country coach Bryson Matthews said.
“There is nobody at practice who can run with him,” said Benton head coach Scott Reeder. “He has to go out every day at practice and do it on his own. He is just a great kid.”
Reeder regrets not putting Haley in the 1600 and 3200 meter races last spring. Instead, Haley was the District 1-5A champion in the 800 meters (2:02.32).
“We had a couple really good distance runners last year, so I just found a home with the 800,” Haley said.
One of those runners was Jacob Marcinkus, who continued his career by signing with UL Lafayette. Haley will be following Marcinkus’ path when he signs with the Ragin’ Cajuns on Tuesday.
It won’t be the first time Haley has followed Marcinkus’s lead.
“I got the bandanna from him,” Haley said. “The mustache? That’s all me. I like to stand out.”
He also has control issues. That’s why you’ll see the Benton Tiger usually on the lead in the opening laps.
It happened in his last time out. He wasn’t able to hold off the competition.
He is hoping that isn’t a problem when he takes the track on Saturday at the LHSAA State Indoor Meet in LSU’s Carl Maddox Field House.
While he is not a favorite, he not far off. Haley goes into the state meet ranked No. 6 in the 1600 meters (4:30.59) and No. 5 in the 3200 meters (9:48.23).
“I like being the underdog,” Haley said. “I like proving my doubters wrong.”
A front runner who wants to break the will of his opponent and runs with a chip on his shoulder? Sounds like a kid from Coos Bay, Oregon, who ultimately captivated the entire track and field world.
The similarities are uncanny.
Photo by KYLE VALDEZ, Milesplit