Texas 2003 outdoor
The Posters’ Champion

Whether he’s rapping with the wired world – or “wrapping” a new victim’s yard with his FMR crazies – “Scuba Steve” Magness of Klein Oak HS (Texas) is a kinda crazy, but perfectly accessible regular guy. He plays hard … and runs harder.

by Stephen "SteveU" Underwood

Award stand for the Texas district 1600 meter race that startled the country.

Steve Magness (center) ran 4:01.58 (new state record),
Eric Stanley (right) 4:03.77 (also breaks old record), and
Brian Sullivan (left) 4:11.14.

Some may have thought that this grand new era of high school distance phenoms hit its peak when Alan Webb ran his last race for South Lakes almost two years ago. But 2003 has brought potentially one of the deepest groups (between 4:00-4:10) of milers ever. And the year’s fastest 4-lapper – someone who could become history’s 5th sub-4 runner – has taken a decidedly different path than his predecessors.

To wit:

  • This miler has never appeared in a state track meet, let alone won or placed in one. Nor has he been a Foot Locker Finalist in cross-country or run in the fast heat of a major national-level race.
  • This miler celebrated his biggest recent success by joining his teammates in a good old-fashioned “wrap” session – and we’re not talking about an Eminem-style gig in Houston’s version of Eight Mile, either.
  • This miler’s training log, his thoughts on different track topics and any and all sundry expressions has been up here on and other web sites for all the world to see. He’s been a TrackTalk poster, is still a TrackTalk poster and plans to continue continue to be a TrackTalk poster. As he said in his log on “I think the most important thing is that I'm the same guy I was before: this same weird, obsessive running-crazy kid.”

Meet Steve Magness of Klein Oak HS: The People’s (and Posters’) SuperMiler.

Part One: The Explosion

Yes, despite his 4:01.58 bomb that rocked the track world April 11, “Scuba Steve” has no plans to cut off communication with the media, stop goofing off with his wild and crazy teammates or stop posting his perspectives online. He DOES hope to make his next statement with a victory at the Texas State Meet May 9-10, he does plan to give it his all to try and capture the 4xMile (with FMR) and the open Mile at AOC Raleigh June 13-14 and he DOES plan to head to Rice University this fall to further his running and education.

Most of the above is relevant because, while not having much experience with the track big boys yet, he happened to rocket through the toughest district meet 1600 of all time. Fans at the 15-5A clash witnessed that 4:01.58 topping Eric Stanley of Klein (4:03.77) and non-region-qualifying Brian Sullivan of The Woodlands (4:11.14). And Sullivan HAD run 4:08 before. These guys not only live in the same track district, they live within a couple freakin miles of each other! Is there something in the water, air or TP in this little pocket of suburban Houston?

(This past Saturday, Stanley was again his competition as Magness took the Texas Region 2-5A meet, this time with a 4:07.01 that began with a 2:06.6 stroll and finished with a smooth 2:00.3 (60.8-59.5) charge. Stanley finished in 4:11.13, just beating 3rd-place Mitch Sanders’ 4:11.65.)

So what has it been like being suddenly in reach of that sub-4 territory broached by only 4 others before?

“People are pretty much going crazy,” Steve says. “Just the fact that people in school actually recognize track is the biggest thing, that they’re actually paying attention to it. No one at our school pays attention to track. Now I can’t walk down the hallway without someone saying something.”

Fast teammates and FMR cohorts Gabe Gonzalez and Paulo Sosa agree that things have changed, but that success change hasn’t changed Magness or themselves. “He doesn’t let the hype get to him,” says Paulo, a 4:21 and 1:55 runner himself and an Alabama signee. “He just worries about running well. He’s more known, but he’s the same around us. He kind of looks at this as a way to help the track and field community.

Adds Gabe, who ripped 4:13 and 9:16 at district, but didn’t make region and is yet unsigned, “We’re getting more attention in school, but it doesn’t change the way we talk or act. We still joke around and make fun of each other.”

Scuba Steve hasn’t truly become a national phenomenon to the outside world yet…. But, boy, that race was truly something special.

“I basically led the whole thing,” he recalls. “At first, I sprinted out, taking the lead. The first 200 we came in through about 28. And at that time, Sullivan was right on me, and I slowed down the pace a little and we came by at 58 for the first 400. Then I just kinda got into daydreaming mode for the second lap, and crossed 800 in 2:01. And I was really surprised because Sullivan actually fell back at 600 … and then Stanley came up on me.

“Then the 3rd lap I really tried to work it,” he continues. “I just basically put my head down and started to go to work … and started a long kick from about 400 out on the last lap. Stanley hung on pretty well until about the last 150. I threw in another gear and just started stroking my arms … and he fell off a little.”

If such a torrid pace for someone needing to be assured of qualifying seems risky, well, the pace’s executor was confident, VERY confident. A season that had already been highlighted by a 9:06.76 3200, 4:08.39 1600, 4:03.9 1600 relay leg, 1:52.70 800 and 2:56 1200 will do that for a guy.

“I chose the strategy because that’s what I’ve been doing all year,” Magness says. “I guess this year’s been a little bit different because I’ve been so far ahead in the workouts that the other guys kind of turned me into a front-runner. I’ve been getting pretty comfortable with pushing myself alone, so I figured I’d just go out hard and try and hang on.”

While Klein Oak head coach Gerald Stewart figured on some significant improvement from his senior this year, Scuba Steve’s bombastic progression has been a little dizzying. “(I expected) under 4:10, and that maybe 4:07 might not be out of reach, but I didn’t really expect anything like this, no,” he says. “I think a lot of it’s being healthy, and just kind of knowing and having learned the last couple years what really works for him and what doesn’t … We finally hit on good things that worked for us. But I think the main thing is that he’s finally healthy for a whole year … CC, winter and spring. And he’s got a lot of confidence, had a good CC season and did so well at Foot Locker (South region race).”

Ironically, however, Coach Stewart HAD to have Scuba Steve ready in early April to improve on that 4:03 best-to-date just to make it out of that insane district.

“Besides the good 4x1600 leg, he had led off a DMR with the 2:56 … so I really felt like he had a chance to get close to 4 when he did that,” recalls Stewart. “We had to peak for THIS race, because he had to get first or second to go on and we had the state champion (Sullivan) and runner-up (Stanley) in our district. We were really aiming for this race.”

Now that Mags has also made it through the regional, there’s bigger fish to fry with states, AOC and maybe a chance to REALLY run with the big dogs in-between. But to look at what’s happened and could be yet to come, one has to return to the genesis of all that’s been good this year, namely 2-1/2 years of frustration.

Part Two: A Long, Difficult Journey

Oh yeah, Scuba Steve has had a lot of motivation to make spring 2003 something special. Whatever the circumstances, a kid running 4:22 as a freshman expects good things by the time he’s a senior, especially if he has become as much of a track nut as Steve had.

But a new, inexperienced coach (Stewart), bad bronchitis as a soph and Achilles tendonitis as a junior slowed his progression. He made it to 4:12.9 with the stick as a junior, but only 4:17.56 on his own. He didn’t make even his region meet, losing to the stunning Stanley and Sullivan.

Those years were quite a process, beginning with Stewart becoming the distance coach to start Steve’s sophomore year. The coach was a veteran of 18 years as a head track coach, but had never coached the distances or CC before, though he’d been wanting to. And give the guy credit, he gave up coaching football (remember, this is Texas) to coach CC.

However …

“Basically we had no idea what to do,” Steve recalls with a laugh. “Coming off a basically perfect track season freshman year it was hard to face difficulty. I think the hardest thing was adjusting to finding my training system. So my sophomore year was one big experiment of several different types of training. And that was real frustrating, because I actually ran really well in CC soph year in the early meets. But we’d done way too much anaerobic work, and I peaked way too soon – just crashed and burned at the big meets. We just didn’t know what to do.”

That there was even a “we” and a “my training system” in the conversation, though, was the secret to the great ultimate success that Steve and his teammates have had. How often do reasonably intelligent and talented prep runners meet up with new (or old) coaches who don’t have a clue and are in deep denial?? Read the boards! There are frustrated would-be stars everywhere. But Stewart was willing to learn from Magness and the sophomore was willing to take ownership of his, and his team’s, success.

“That’s basically how it was,” Mags says. “Coach was reading lots of books, then I’d start reading some stuff and then junior year, we kind of got it figured out … Coach has been great. The best thing about him is that he listens to you. And he’s willing to change his ideas and everything. I mean, I could take in some book right now and tell him what I think, and he’d listen to me and tell me what he thought. I think that’s the best thing. I’m just thankful I have a high school coach who listens and wants to do what’s best for us.”

Indeed, Stewart knew he had a school-record-setting 4:22 miler on his hands that was able and willing to do about anything to achieve greatness for himself and his teammates.

“Steve and I have good communication and a really good relationship,” the coach says. “He had great work habits and he was so committed to running, even as a freshman, and serious about it. He’s pretty knowledgeable and a student of the sport himself. In fact, he wants to be a coach someday. I think we finally kind of hit on exactly what type of system and things worked for him (and the rest of the team) and what doesn’t.”

So after the learning process that was Steve’s sophomore year, he came out of the summer in great shape as a rising junior. But then came the Achilles tendonitis that killed his late-season hopes in CC and prevented a good base going into track.

Actually, you wouldn’t have known, being an outsider, that things weren’t so great early in the winter. Scuba Steve and the soon-to-be famous FMR went to Nebraska in February of 2002 (Midwest Indoor Classic) and tore it up in the DMR and 4xMile. But it was not truly a portent of better things to come.

“Yeah, I kind of came out pretty strong running 4:17 split indoors,” he admits, “but I just never … I ran a 4:12.9 split (later), and I was happy with that, but then I just kind of fizzled out. I think it was the lack of base, because we were really cautious coming back from that Achilles tendonitis and I probably didn’t top 40 miles a week coming into the track season, so I basically had no strength; I think that’s what happened.”

By then, there was definitely some cumulative frustration building up. “It’s definitely difficult to not see yourself improve like you want to,” Mags agrees. Says Coach Stewart, “It seems like every other year something’s bad happened to him and he didn’t run as good as he wanted to.”

With a last-chance senior year to go, Mags got the monster base he wanted in summer of 2002. While not yet where he wanted to ultimately be, he had a strong, consistent fall and was a very solid 3rd at the Texas state cross country meet. He then revved up for Foot Locker South at McAlpine Park in Charlotte with his heart set on San Diego. And for a while, it seemed like the dream might come true.

“The race went almost perfect for the kind of shape I was in,” Steve recalls. “I took it out pretty slow, conservative for me, and just tried to work my way up … but I didn’t’ exactly work my way up a lot between 1.5 and 2 miles … I guess I got sucked into a pace and just zoned out. Then I came back really strong the last mile, but just came up a little short.”

His 15:09 was just 2 seconds behind 8th-place Bobby Mack of North Carolina. While Scuba Steve had not exactly a record of near-misses in Charlotte before and was hardly a “favorite” – and, oh yeah, he PR’d with that time – the pain still cut deep.

“At first I was really, really disappointed,” he explains, “because I’d been thinking about that since freshman year; that’s the thing to do, is make Foot Locker Finals, the ultimate CC thing in high school. For about a week I was really bummed, but in one way it was good, because it showed I was getting closer to the top guys. I could actually run with them over 5k, and it gave me a lot of confidence.”

Says Stewart: “That race really kind of proved to Steve that he belonged with the top runners. After that he realized that he had a chance to really be good.”

Mags also knew he was more a miler than CC and motivation took over during the winter months. He eschewed an indoor campaign for long weeks of up to 108 miles, more than he’d ever done before. Not overracing was going to be a key. A season of magic possibility dawned ahead …

Part 3: A Season of Surprises

… and was kicked off on Feb. 14 at the Kingwood Invitational, ironically, with Steve’s least favorite distance, the 3200. “I had to promise him he only had to run one this year,” laughs Coach Stewart. “So we said, ‘let’s do it early.’ I wanted people to see his range.”

The result was the very solid 9:06.76; the splits of 4:40/4:26 being doubly encouraging. The effort also served as a confidence-builder for his first major open 1600 of the year. On March 7, Mags burned the 4:08.39 in a quad meet at Humble (2:03-2:05). The confidence began to snowball.

“I was thinking sub-4:10,” he says. “I thought I was in really good shape, just off the 2-mile, because I’d never really run a good 2 mile before. My previous best was like 9:28.”

After a 1:53.4 on a 4x800 in a small relay meet on March 15, the March 22 Klein Relays brought the first mark that really started popping eyes. The cool thing was that when Scuba Steve got the baton in that 4x1600, all he was thinking about was catching Brian Sullivan.

“That race was really, really odd because we got the baton about 70 meters behind Kingwood and 15 meters behind The Woodlands, with Sullivan on the anchor, so I was just focused on his back for the whole first 2 laps,” Steve recalls. “And we were flying – 57-58 first lap – which totally shocked me because I’d never done anything like that before. But by the time I’d caught up on the 2nd lap, I wasn’t even thinking splits; just catch the next guy. So it was a pretty big shock when I came through the finish line and guys told me my split.”

Running down Sullivan was no small feat, either. The legend was growing. Actually, fans had been hoping to witness an open 1600 with Mags and Sullivan, but the Klein Oak star went for the 800 later that day, hitting a nice PR 1:52.70, and … giving him a not-shabby range (with full potential certainly not tapped on either end). “I really think he could definitely go under 9 now and I think he could get around 1:50 in the 800,” says Stewart.

A week later at Klein Collins (March 28), another mark to make DyeStatters (and others, admit it!) go gaga: 2:56 for 1200. Folks had to look again at the results and make sure they weren’t reading about legs from the Penn Relays Championship of America DMR. What did you think of that one, Scuba Steve? “I was expecting something, I don’t know what,” he says, “but I actually like the 1200. It was a fun race. I don’t’ know; I just went out there and tried to bust it out from the start.”

that fabulous District meet

All of which leads us up to D-Day (that would be districts day), where the bomb was dropped (no, not that one) and any speculation about accurate relay splits could be put to rest. Was the time or finally getting out of the nation’s toughest district more of a thrill? “I think it was the 4:01,” Mags says. “I’d just been thinking ‘state record, state record’ all week, so I think that was the most exciting thing.”

Coach Stewart was equally charged by the win. “We were disappointed last year … we really came down to same three in big race last spring and he came out third (4:18 behind Sullivan’s 4:13 and Stanley’s 4:16). He’s had so much bad luck and he hasn’t given up. It’s just good to see it all happen for him finally.”

Even having run a 4:22 as freshman, even having been a DyeStat geek having lived through the sub-4 chase of Webb and Hall, had Steve ever envisioned that he could be flirting with becoming the 5th prep sub-4 miler himself? “It was more like a dream, more like something to get me through the summer months,” he says. “To get me through those runs, I’d picture myself running something like sub-4 in my mind. But I never really thought I’d get this close, you know.

“Actually my freshman coach (Coach Mike Deldonno, now at Klein Collins) told me I could be a sub-4 miler by the time I was a senior, but I didn’t know what he was talking about; I didn’t know a lot back then.”

Part Four: Wrapping His Way to the Top

If you had to write out the equation of what makes Scuba Steve, Scuba Steve, you’d probably have to start with a heavy dosage of Mike Deldonno and family support, for sure (Steve is the son of supportive parents Mr. and Mrs. William Magness). Then (besides Coach Stewart, of course) you’d have to mix in a little John Dye (for starting DyeStat and making all high school runners aware of the world beyond their local horizons), a mess of Gabe and Paulo, and a whole lotta FMR.

“Coach Deldonno kind of got me hooked up,” says Steve. “He was a track buff and he’d run in college and knew history; he really got me hooked on it.”

“I really have no idea how I found DyeStat,” he continues (selective memory loss, apparently). “I was just doing a search one day and it popped up. It was right before Foot Locker Finals my freshman year.” That would have been a Foot Locker final featuring Dathan Ritzenhein and Alan Webb, which spawned voluminous threads on TrackTalk.

Mags had a different screen name at first (he claims he can’t remember it). His posts didn’t get, uh, quite as favorable a reaction in those early days, though yours truly was one of those who had the foresight (in hindsight) to jump up and defend him. “I got a lot of crap,” he laughs. “I didn’t know what I was doing. Probably posting my times too much; I was an immature freshman.”

Still, maturing into his current screen name (if you don’t know, you’ll just have to figure it out), Steve has certainly been as consistent with quality and quantity as any high school poster ever (at least according to that steveu guy) and if you don’t think that’s a big deal, try administering those pesky little DyeStat message boards for a few months.

And ponder this: How many other top-shelf guys have EVER posted on DyeStat regularly? Webb, Hall, Ritz? No, no and no. You can probably count the sub-4:10 guys on one hand. With Scuba Steve, the 4:20, 4:40 and 5-minute milers of the world can be inspired by prepdom’s most accessible supermiler. That shouldn’t be, and isn’t, a small thing. “It’s pretty crazy,” Steve says. “A couple years ago I never would have imagined someone like Webb or Hall posting; it’s almost like they’re celebrities.”

“His folks say he’s always on that computer,” Stewart laughs. “Any time they need to slap a little discipline on him, I think that’s what they do, take the computer away from him for a couple days.”

Then there’s FMR. Ahhhh … FMR! That exclusive fraternity of sophisticated young gentlemen, bravely embracing the mission of making sure no potential prank, joke or friendly insult goes unsaid, that no attractive young ladies go unfilmed and that no toilet paper executive ever has to worry about losing his job.

Yes, you are likely on any given day or night to see Steve, Gabe and Paulo getting in a little doorbell ring-N-run action during the easy 6-miler, taking pictures or video of the hottest babes at any given meet for the ol’ FMR web site, embarrassing a younger runner by making a big deal out of a certain little packaged something falling out of his wallet or seeing how many hotel stories a roll of TP can fall (it’s not only good for wrapping coach’s houses, you know).

(By the way, if any of the paragraphs in this section make you think, “Hmm. Guess you had to be there!” … well, you CAN be there if you go to Raleigh this June when these guys go for the 4 x mile title … or you can “Go to the site!” as Mags says … … )

“It actually started as a non-track thing,” Steve says. “We were bored one day sophomore year and we were coming up with different kinds of groups on our team for a relay race we were going to run. So a bunch of us faster guys just came up with FMR.”

Along with Scuba, Gabe and Paulo (more exclusive nicknames can be found on the site), Travis Albers, graduates like Frankie Flores and a few others can count themselves among the blessed.

But, come on! What does it mean? “I can’t say,” Scuba says. “It’s top secret. I’d get killed if I said (Note: At this point, more pleading ensued, finally resulting in that he could tell me, but then he’d have to kill ME. I moved on) … We decided to actually make it a track club when we found out we had to run unattached at the Carl Lewis indoor invite, so we just added the ‘Track Club’ part of it.”

Just a couple of recent months of Steve’s online log reveals all sorts of inspirations, many that we … well, we just aren’t going to repeat here. But there does seem to be a recurring pattern in some of the FMR social activities: “ … crazy mischievous things to another team's houses” … going to Hooters then “wrapping for a little revenge” … tackling a “chick” that came out of one of the houses and making her “watch us wrap her house (I think they knew her)” … and so on.

The Magness domicile was discovered wrapped one morning, too, but certainly by amateurs. “The FMR crew can take claim to wrapping about 30, maybe 40 houses,” says Mags in his log, “so we are experts.” Another entry claimed that about 100 rolls of TP were used on one expedition.

There’s no easy explanation to this intriguing behavior, but a few things are clear. If Scuba Steve goes on to a professional running career, surely Charmin and AngelSoft are potential sponsors. And if Joe and Mary Suburban Houstonite are wondering why the Wal-Mart down the street keeps running out of TP at the most inopportune times, the answer hangs whipping in the tall oaks of Klein.

Coach Stewart himself (he swears he doesn’t know what FMR means either) is a proud, recent victim. “After the district meet, I woke up Saturday to go to our freshman/JV meet and it was dark … and as it was lightening up I looked outside and I looked again and they had toilet papered my front yard. They hit me a couple years ago at the end of CC season, but it’d been a while.”

And like most good clubs, a little controversy never hurts. Given a heady racial mix of Hispanics and kids of other backgrounds on FMR (and in or around the team’s inner circle), these boundary-pushers have made racially-charged lingo, jabs and gags part of their banter. No PC freaks, them. Because FMRs and other Klein guys post a lot, some of this stuff has made it into public cyberspace, including, for example, a little soccer game between, um, well let’s just say teams named for some guys in hooded sheets and some guys trying to prevent illegal immigration.

While such inside extremism may not be fit for public consumption (burp!), it at least says something if guys can have some sharp razzing regarding each other’s differences, even in volatile fashion, and still go home friends, doesn’t it?

“That’s just the way they are,” says Coach Stewart, explaining the inexplicable. “You know, those kids spend so much time together … They tease each other all the time, but they’re all good kids.”

On the track, however, the boys are all business. “Running’s first, but we like to have some fun with it as long as it doesn’t interfere,” says Steve.

Gabe says one meet the guys tried to be serious but, darn it, they just couldn’t do it. “We collapsed,” he laughs. “In order to run good, you have to relieve stress. It’s OK to screw around before and after, but just not during.”

“We like to have a good time, but when it comes down to it, we get our work done,” says Paulo. “If you’re not up to it, you’re not going to amount to anything here.”

Part Five: The Final Kick

Magness is, in fact, a leader and has had to be since his freshman year. How else can it be if you’re a 4:22 miler and school-record-setter with a new coach and no upperclassmen to look up to? If Steve wanted success for him and his team, he HAD to be a leader.

“My soph year we didn’t have any seniors, so I was kind of pushed into that role,” says Steve. “At first it was pretty difficult because we were all young and we wanted to have fun and didn’t really know what a lot of hard work was. But I try and lead by example, and show guys how you can get good. Now it’s great because even the young guys will go out and run what they’re supposed to now, we don’t have guys cutting mileage any more and anything like that. I think they see how much it means to all of us.”

“He’s been great,” says Paulo, who started as a 5-minute miler. “Whenever we’re tired, he’s like, ‘Come on, you can do it.’ He’s a motivator.” Coach Stewart agrees. “Steve’s a great leader and really helps them. He’s almost like having an assistant coach out there with the kids. Of course, you can imagine what he’s done for the distance program, with all the success that he’s had and all the young kids really look up to him. We’ve had a couple other kids really running good and a lot of it’s because of him.

“When time comes to work and to race, he can really turn it on,” he adds. “And other times, he is kind of a regular guy, too. He’s well-liked by his teammates and classmates.”

Finally, the next question begs itself: Does Mags have enough for the weeks following his date with destiny in Austin to make the ultimate statement at AOC or any other post-season meets?

“Yeah, I think so,” he says, “because we’ve really just been going after tempo runs and such for a long time, and we’re just now starting a lot of hard, anaerobic stuff. And we haven’t even worked on my speed any. We haven’t done any pure speed workouts yet to work on my 400 speed or anything like that, so I think that will help a lot, because I haven’t done anything faster than an 800 yet.”

“We had to do the same thing in CC,” says Coach Stewart of the long or double peak necessity. “We’re taking the same philosophy now as we did then. He held that peak pretty well then for CC. We kind of held off the really deep anaerobic work until pretty late in cross-country, which is the same thing we’re doing now.

“He’s still got a little more in him.”

The running world – and FMR fans everywhere, besieged by toilet paper or not – eagerly await.




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