Just call him 'David': NFA has a modest, yet talented hurdler in Osagie

Modesty is so much a part of who he is that Osaretin "David" Osagie doesn't want to trouble anyone with having to learn to say his first name. It's pronounced O-cy-a-tine — the 'r' is silent.

"I don't try to be entitled," Osagie, a Norwich Free Academy junior, said recently. "Just 'David.' It's easier."

Osagie, who first moved to the area prior to his freshman year at NFA, didn't even tell the track coaches that he had previous experience hurdling at the middle school level in his former hometown of Greenwich. He started out as a sprinter for the Wildcats until one day he "wandered" over to the hurdles, NFA head boys' track and field coach Tom Teixeira said.

"We hadn't had anyone run the hurdles that fast in some time," Teixeira said. "And he did it in big, clunky sneakers."

The story for the 15-year-old Osagie isn't nearly completed yet. A growth spurt of five or six inches in the last year has brought him near the 6-foot mark. He is still improving. He ran a personal-best time of 14.77 seconds on May 4 to finish second in the 110-meter high hurdles at the Middletown Invitational by two one-hundredths of a second.

He still has dreams to achieve.

Yet Osagie's narrative, which began in Nigeria ahead of his family's move to Greenwich when he was 10 years old, now unfolds with him as a hurdler.

Osagie is the reigning Class LL indoor champion in the 55 hurdles (7.89 seconds) and he is the top seed in this year's Class LL 110 hurdles in outdoor track, also highly ranked in the 300 hurdles (second, 42.32), long jump (fourth, 20 feet, 6.5 inches) and triple jump (ninth, 41-8).

He will help highlight NFA's attempt to win its fourth straight Eastern Connecticut Conference championship meet on Monday at 2:30 p.m. at East Lyme High School.

"The rest of the season (Osagie's freshman year), Jawaun Johnson gave him his spikes," Teixeira said of the birth of Osagie's hurdling career. "He would run the 110s, run back to the starting line and Jawaun would run the 100 (meters) in the same shoes. It's something you wouldn't expect to see, watching this superstar give this freshman his shoes.

"... The freshman time he ran was pretty good. You're kind of waiting for them to hit their ceiling. At some point, PRs and the ceiling are going to be difficult to go and get. We're not at that point yet."

Osagie was third in the ECC last season in the 110 hurdles in 15.24 seconds and fourth in the 300 hurdles in 41.74. The champion in both cases was Stonington's Cam Whalen, who went on to win Class M state titles in both events.

"I kind of looked up to him in a certain way. I thought it looked really majestic," Osagie said, then smiling as he was asked whether he ever came close to Whalen. "He was gone, like, 'there he goes.' He could do whatever he wanted, which was destroy us all. I see what he did."

The competitor, the artist

The first time the rest of the NFA boys' track team became aware that Osagie was a budding artist came on a bus trip once when teammate Nate Cote fell asleep and woke up to a drawing of himself slumbering.

"He's pretty forward about that," Teixeira said. "He'll share a lot of his drawings. He draws on the bus or at meets."

The same goes for Osagie's prose. There's certain things he's reserved in discussing. He doesn't know how tall he is, for instance. He doesn't believe that's part of the "big picture." But he has no trouble giving a detailed description of a story he wrote for his English class.

"My English teacher told us to write a story. I wrote one. I just kind of played with it," Osagie said at a recent track meet, having just finished his four events for the day in an 82-68 victory over ECC Division I rival East Lyme.

"One time I was waiting to catch my bus and there was a butterfly, like a monarch. I cradled it. It started struggling. It couldn't fly. I asked my science teacher about what to do. He told me its wings were probably just wet and to take it back outside and let it go. I did and it flew away. ... I write stories. I'm trying to learn how to develop characters. I like trying to make words look like a picture."

Osagie is an easygoing guy, yes. He especially thrives when he's relaxed and loose, Teixeira said. You might even see him dancing before a race.

He's also competitively driven, though.

The postseason last spring bugged him a great deal. He was second in Class LL in the 110 hurdles (15.46) and seventh in the State Open (15.21). The top six at the Open were automatic qualifiers for the New England meet, but when one runner withdrew, Osagie advanced to New Englands in Durham, New Hampshire, where he finished 17th (15.97). He didn't like the feeling of not having properly earned the New England bid.

"I felt like I got pitied," Osagie said. "I felt like, the blood, sweat and tears, I work hard for it ... I felt like I didn't deserve it."

Osagie admires 2005 NFA graduate Myles Bradley, the school's record-holder in both the 110 (13.77) and 300 (40.87) hurdles. Bradley went on to compete at Stanford, where he also established the 110 hurdles record (he still holds the mark at 13.53 seconds) and earned All-America honors.

Teixeira will occasionally email Bradley film of Osagie to dissect, with Bradley offering suggestions.

"I started in middle school. I would just run and jump, jump over stuff. There was no technique," Osagie said of hurdling. "I just kind of messed with it. ... I came (to the hurdles) in the middle of outdoor track season my freshman year. I had no idea indoor was a thing. I kind of dabbled in everything. Mr. (Kevin) Clendennin (assistant coach) taught me the technique."

It's the low-key David, the dancing David, the modest David who brings great perspective to all his endeavors.

He believes in treating people the way he would want to be treated himself.

He believes there is an alternative to the normal hierarchy of wins and losses — instead of "win and lose, win and learn," he said.

He believes you can be prideful without taking yourself too seriously.

"I want to graduate and say I worked hard and got nice things. I worked hard on my writing skills. I worked hard on my drawing skills. I got my hurdling so good," Osagie said. "... Sometimes things happen the way you think about it."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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