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By Philip Sikes // Athletic Communications
Michael Cheeks joined the Clemson track & field program as a mid-year addition in 2014-15. In a short amount of time and without the benefit of fall training, he proved to be one of the Tigers’ most valuable and versatile athletes.
Just weeks after being added to the roster, the Auburn transfer was part of Clemson’s gold medal ACC Indoor Championship 4x400m relay squad. His performances only grew from there. Individually, he earned Second-Team All-ACC honors in the 200m and 400m in the outdoor season. He helped the 4x100m relay team to a runner-up ACC finish and the 4x400m relay squad to a berth in the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Head coach Mark Elliott believes the program will see a new and improved Cheeks in 2015-16, his junior season.
“He did not have the fall season last year,” said Elliott. “Now he has that, so we should see some big strides.”
Cheeks did not hit his stride as a track athlete until after completing a long career in football. Growing up in Maryland as the son of two athletes, he also played baseball and lacrosse before leaving for Georgia after eighth grade.
It was in the Peach State that he drew attention for his football abilities. He signed a letter of intent to play for West Georgia, but he had a change of heart after running some fast times on the AAU circuit prior to his senior season.
“I decided to go to Auburn for track, but they didn’t have the resources I needed,” he said. “I was switched to the short sprints, but I wanted to run what I was recruited for…the 400 meters.”
Cheeks asked for and was granted a release from his scholarship, and in part thanks to his friendship with former Mill Creek High School classmate Malayshia George of the Clemson women’s team, he contacted Elliott and staff about joining the men’s program.
While big-time schools such as Florida State, Oregon and Texas all showed interest, Cheeks said the decision was already made in his mind.
“I knew about coach Elliott’s history with LSU and the success he had,” said Cheeks. “He recruited me and I’m very close with him. I’m close with all the coaches, especially my event coach, ‘A.T.’ (Althea Thomas).”
Despite the team’s youth in the quarter mile, Cheeks said he was not surprised at the success the group experienced after the calendar turned to 2015 because of the talent on campus.
“Actually, I was disappointed,” admitted Cheeks. “I thought we would run a lot faster, but we had injuries that set us back. This year, we have numbers and we should be more equipped to keep everyone healthy.”
Cheeks is part of a core group of 400m runners, joining sophomores Jorel Bellafonte, Jeffrey Green and Cordell Lamb, who have given the Tiger coaches a reason to smile. The foursome was a major reason the men’s team made a seven-spot jump in the ACC Outdoor standings from 2014 to 2015.
Cheeks said the additions of freshman-phenom John Lewis and others into the program should have the Tigers on the cusp of experiencing team success that had not been the norm in the few years prior to Elliott’s tenure.
“This fall has been really good, and everything has been sped up,” he said. “From what I hear, no one was at the point they’re at now in fall training that they were this time last year. We’re looking really good.”
The versatility and determined spirit of athletes like Cheeks have signified a cultural “changing of the guard” within the men’s program.
“I love how our school takes track seriously,” added Cheeks. “Everything has been more organized and more efficient. It feels like it’s all equal here, and each sport gets the same amount of attention.”
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