Nottingham sophomore Louis Abpadogo, shown here at a March practice, has track coaches around Mercer County looking forward to what he can do this spring. (Photo by Wes Kirkpatrick.)

Some guys might be devastated, but Louis Abpadogo just figures it’s all part of the learning experience.

Competing in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III Indoor meet for the first time, the Nottingham High sophomore promptly won his 55 meter preliminary race in 6.52, which made him the top seed in the finals.

But they are called growing pains for a reason, as Abpadogo suffered a painful false start in the finals, eliminating him from qualifying for a medal.

“After winning the (prelims) I think I was so excited and the dude next to me kind of moved a little bit, he kind of made me false start,” Abpadogo said.

Melissa Persichetti, who was on hand at the meet while head coach Jon Adams recovered from knee surgery, has seen that kind of thing before.

“It looked like the kid next to him false started, too,” Persichetti said. “The kid next to him made that movement but didn’t go, and when you’re in a starting position and someone right next to you makes that movement you jump the gun. But Louis didn’t stop, he went and they caught him. I’ve found that false starting happens, especially when they’re learning. He’s at a sectional meet, it’s intense.”

Although Adams could not be there, he felt his runner’s pain.

“That was rough,” Adams said. “I think he was a little nervous because his freshman year he had dominated on sub-varsity meets. Now he got a chance to run with the big guys. We took him to New York and he ran in a big meet, he ran again in county relays and county championships and he did very well. But I think that big moment kind of got him. He knew he had to get out of the blocks quick and that inexperience hurt. He’s only a sophomore, and let me tell you, he’s the real deal.”

In discussing the situation with Abpadogo, this is nothing that will linger. He enters the spring season as one of Nottingham’s top sprinter from amongst a bevy of strong sophomores. The false start is now just a memory in which only the lessons learned have been retained.

“It wasn’t my time,” Abpadogo said. “I’ll keep working for spring track. Hopefully I’ll go hard and beat them. I did good all winter season, but that false start kind of messed it up. I was kind of mad at myself, but I was like ‘Just forget about everything.’ I’m gonna keep working hard. I’m gonna turn it into a good thing and learn from my mistakes.”

In other words, don’t look at the guy next to him at the starting line?

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m gonna try to focus on myself.”

Abpadogo is an athletic treasure in a school that has many. As a little kid, he was one of the fastest kids in the neighborhood, and that speed was put on display when he became a stud running back for the Northstars freshman football team last year. With encouragement from his dad, Abpadogo went out for winter track.

“I did it to stay in shape for football,” he said, “and I ended up being good at it.”

“We knew he was a good athlete because he was in the football program,” said Adams, who is also the Stars varsity grid coach. “Track and football kind of mesh because of me, because of my philosophy that we have in all the sports. We knew we had something special then. He pretty much won every single 55 meters that we put him in a sub-varsity situation with winter track as a freshman. We knew we had a great sprinter that just needed to continue to improve.”

‘He doesn’t hold on to mistakes very long. He comes back and he’s so daggone good.’

Abpadogo feels his biggest issue getting out of the starting blocks, and he has worked on that tirelessly with assistant coach Shaquille Sanderson. He continued to improve last spring doing the 100 and 200 meters, and dominated on the JV football team while also playing varsity last fall.

“I did good last spring,” he said. “I didn’t place in counties, but I’m kind of happy how I ran. I mean, I was running with a lot of good people and my body wasn’t good for the challenge, so I knew I had to go hard at working out.”

Abpadogo got his first track success on the big stage this past winter. At the Mercer County Championships, Abpadogo ran a 6.61 in the 55 and finished second in a photo-finish to West Windsor-Plainsboro South’s A’Nan Bridgett.

“Yeah that was good,” Abpadogo said. “My coach kept saying to work on my start. I came to the race and did pretty good. I didn’t get first, but it went good.”

As he enters the spring season, Abpadogo continues to work on his start with Sanderson, the former Hamilton West standout and son of Trenton High trainer Poppy Sanderson.
“My lean was bad,” he said. “When I started, I didn’t keep my head down. Coach told me I gotta keep my head down and I gotta be explosive coming from the blocks. I wasn’t feeling comfortable but I’m good now. I still gotta keep working on it though.”

Aside from short sprints, Abpadogo will try the long jump this year and may be on the 4×400 relay team. Adams says, “He’s one of our main guys this year.”

Abpadogosaid he has set goals for himself in both the 100 and 200, but won’t reveal the times unless he actually breaks them.

“He has to keep working on his techniques,” Adams said. “He’s very explosive and very strong. He’s not real good if you start spreading that distance out. Once you get past the 200, he needs to work on his endurance for the 400. He’s been told that. We don’t need him at this juncture in that role but when he is a junior and senior we’ll need him.”

The coach will not predict a spring Meet of Champions berth for Abpadogo but is fairly certain he will get out of the sectionals into the Group III meet. He is not ruling out the MOC completely.

“Nobody knows who he is, if you sleep on him he’ll get out quick and go,” Adams said. “He’s gonna bounce back (from the false start). He doesn’t hold on to mistakes very long. He comes back and he’s so daggone good. In track if you false start in a race you’re done, there’s nothing you can do to fix it. In football, you can fix it the next play. He’s shown he doesn’t hang on to it. He’s an upbeat kid, very positive. He keeps his nose clean, doesn’t get in trouble. He’s a quality kid.”