Feature Friday: Look Out For Freshman Phenom Malachi James

There is an electrifying new sprinter to keep an eye on this outdoor season. His name is Malachi James.

For anyone who is wondering who he is, let's just say that he has the potential, the talent, the drive, the heart, the coaching, and the confidence to possibly become one of the greatest sprinters in state history.

Look, I know how unusual it is to hype up a male freshman sprinter like this, but trust me when I tell you that James is just built different. He's a very rare and unique talent, who is as accomplished, poised, powerful, and polished as any rookie sprinter to come into a NJ high school in recent memory.

James, a freshman phenom at track and field powerhouse Willingboro, is the total package.

Want some numbers that will blow your mind?

First off, the 14-year-old James is 5-11, 170 pounds! I told you he was built different.

He has already captured 10 national titles and has smashed four national records!

In his first race ever as a high school athlete, James, running for the Carl Lewis Athletics Stars Track Club, blasted a 7.16.in the prelims of the 60m dash at the Adidas National Championships last month. That's the fourth fastest time in Burlington County history, and was the third fastest time in the nation among all freshmen during the indoor season. He came back the next day to run 7.20 in the final of the Freshman Division, pulling away to capture his 10th national title.

Want more?

When he was 12 years old, James ran a national indoor age group record 23.83 in the 200m on the flat track in Landover, Md. to finish first at the AAU Nationals!

James has PR's of 11.25 in the 100m, and 22.72, which he ran last summer at the AAU Junior Olympics in Satellite Beach, Florida.

James has always dreamed of being a big track star. Growing up in Willingboro, he heard all about the rich track and field history of "The Boro.'' The legendary Carl Lewis (Willingboro Class of 1979) has always been an idol of his, and James just happens to share a birthday with Lewis (July 1), and competes in all the same events that Lewis did.

Earlier this week, James had his first high school track and field practice at Carl Lewis Stadium. He said it was something he'd been dreaming about since he was a little kid.

Now James is dreaming of one day breaking all the school records set by Lewis! Now that's a pretty lofty goal considering Lewis ran 10.5 for 100m, 20.9 for 200m, and leaped a former national record and still standing state record 26-6 in the long jump.

But you know how the saying goes, records are made to be broken. I'm not predicting that James will take down all the Willingboro school records held by Lewis, and break all the county and state sprint records, but I'm also not predicting that he won't. James isn't the kind of talent that you ever put limits on!

NJ MileSplit recently caught up with James for a very enlightening Q and A. James talked about his huge goals, how he got started in the sport, the great support system he has at home, his admiration for Lewis, how he wants to continue the legacy of greatness at Willingboro, and a whole lot more.

So, kick back and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday as we shine the spotlight on Willingboro freshman phenom Malachi James, who is wise beyond his years and hungry to become a legend!

Malachi James Interview

NJM: You are coming off a great freshman indoor season where you ran 7.16 in your first high school race ever and won the freshman race at the Adidas National Championships. What did it mean to you to run the fourth fastest time in Burlington County history and the third fastest time in the country among all freshmen this past season?

It really meant a lot knowing that my name was able to be mentioned with some of the fastest guys in state history, not just Burlington County. It gave me confidence going into outdoor season since I was only training for six weeks and still ran a good time. Going into Adidas, I knew that Jelani Watkins ran 6.95 at The Galleria Games, so the goal was 6.94 by AAU Indoor Nationals, but I sat out to rest and get ready for this outdoor season.

Were you surprised by what you did by winning at Adidas Nationals or did you feel like that was coming? 

I was definitely shocked when the announcer said that I ran 7.16 in the prelims, but I knew that it wasn't my best performance and I could've run faster if my mechanics were better. In the final, I stayed in my drive phase too long and ran slower, but I cleaned up my mechanics, so I wasn't too disappointed. I was just happy to be back on the track.

I saw you tweeted out that you have waited since second grade for your first day of high school track practice at Carl Lewis Stadium. What made that first high school practice so special, important, and emotional for you for all these years?

What made that first high school practice so special to me was that I realized that I will be training on the same track that Olympians Carl Lewis, Lamont Smith, and others, trained on for the remainder of my high school career. The moment that I walked in with Coach Booker, I realized that if I keep up the hard work in the classroom and on the track, my name will be in the conversation when they talk about the greatest track and field athletes to ever come out of Willingboro. It was emotional because I was running for Willingboro Track Club from age 7-11 and I never thought I would get an opportunity to run on that track again after I moved to CL Stars.

I know you have big goals for yourself for your high school career. Tell me about those goals and what times you hope to hit in each of your events this spring?

My biggest short term goal is to qualify for the Meet of Champions in June. I want to be one of the fastest sprinters in the nation for all four years of my high school career. This spring, I hope to hit 10.4 in the 100m, around 21.5 in the 200m, and 48.9 in the 400m.

How about long-term goals, Malachi? What are your biggest goals as a track and field athlete for your high school career and beyond?

My long term goals on the track are to break Carl Lewis' school records in the 100m, 200m and long jump, and Lamont Smith's school record in the 400m. I also want to eventually win state and national championships in the 100m, 200m, 400m, long jump, 4x1 and 4x4 at least once over the next four years. Off of the track, I want to get my degree in law enforcement, and work for the FBI or the DEA if sports doesn't work out.

Are you the kind of athlete that writes down county and state records times as motivation and pushes yourself to try to hit those times?

Since I was seven years old, my dad always told me what the meet, facility and national records were for the events that I was running in, so I always made it my season goal to beat those records. I'll have the same mentality in high school for county, state and national records. Some of the greatest track and field athletes have competed at Willingboro, led by the legendary Carl Lewis.

How much does it motivate and inspire you to continue the great tradition of track and field excellence at Willingboro and carve out your own great career?

It motivates and inspires me a ton because I have an opportunity to create my own legacy alongside Carl and Lamont's. Hopefully one day the younger kids here in Willingboro will look up to me the way that I look up to them.

How excited are you to be working with Willingboro Coach Martin Booker everyday. He's one of the best coaches in state history.

I am very excited to be working with Coach Booker knowing that he has been successful everywhere that he has coached. When my dad told me that he coached a Camden High team that beat the Jamaicans at Penn Relays, I knew that I was going to be in good hands. This week I've seen him coaching sprints, hurdles, long jump and high jump, so I know that he knows what he's doing.

I know you've been involved in track and field since you were very young. How and why did you first get involved in track and field? How did it all start? Have you always competed for the Carl Lewis Athletics Stars Track Club with your dad as the coach?

I got involved in track & field because my mom and dad saw that I was sprinting from goal to goal during my soccer games, and one afternoon after school, my dad asked me if I wanted to run track. I responded, "Sure, I'll give it a try." I haven't always run for the Carl Lewis Athletic Stars Track Club. I ran for Willingboro Track Club from 2014 - 2017, CL Stars NJ 2018 - 2019, and I ran unattached during the 2020 season. This summer, I'll be running with Trenton Track Club.

Tell me how much your dad (Troy James) has meant to you during your track career? I know he's a big reason for your success.

My dad has meant a lot to me during my young track & field career, as well as my mom. I will always appreciate them for that. My dad saw something that I couldn't see early on and has believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. His workouts are tough, but they've helped my run my fastest when I've needed to. He's the most technical coach that I've ever seen.

Tell me a little about your dad's background in track and field? How long has he coached the CL Athletics Stars Track Club, and where did he compete in high school/college etc?

My dad didn't run track and field in high school, which is still unbelievable to me. He knows his stuff and is always reading about speed and technique to get better. He graduated from Willingboro in 1998, but he played football and basketball. A few weeks ago, I tweeted that I think that he's one of the best coaches/trainers in the country. He coached the eight-and-under boys at the Willingboro Track Club, and was the head coach of CL Stars in 2018 and 2019. He graduated from Willingboro in 1998 and went into the Army.

You have collected four national records and 10 national titles as an age group star. Which of all your victories and records means the most to you and why?

The race that means the most to me was the 200m dash at AAU Indoor Nationals in Landover, Md. in 2019. I ran a lot faster than I expected. I thought that I was going to run 24, but I ended up setting the national record at 23.83 on a flat track, no bank. It meant a lot because it was first year that my dad trained me and he told me that I was going to run sub 24 during warmups.

When would you say you had your first huge breakthrough moment when you realized you could be a great track and field athlete? 

My first huge breakthrough moment was at the 2016 USATF Hershey Nationals while I was with the Willingboro Track Club. It was my birthday (July 1st), and we were running the 4x1 relay. We were in 4th place when I got the baton and I ran down the anchor legs, who had a 15 meter lead, to win it for my team at the line. After I crossed the line, I turned around and I saw the whole stadium staring at me in shock, then I looked at the section that our team was sitting in and I saw everyone going crazy.

Do you play other sports or is track and field your only focus year-round?

Yes, I play wide receiver and safety for Willingboro, and some flag and 7 on 7.

It's pretty cool to see that your birthday is the same day as Carl Lewis, and you compete in the events and attend the high school. Is Carl Lewis an idol of yours? Have you ever met him?

Carl Lewis is definitely someone that I look up to. Whenever I hear his name I think of myself because I have the opportunity to break his school records that haven't been touched by anyone that has went to Willingboro High School. I've met Carl twice, I had a brief conversation with him in Houston, Texas the day before I had to run at AAU Junior Olympics in 2016, and again in 2018 when he did a sprint clinic at Willingboro High.

What do you love the most about being a track and field athlete?

What I love most about being a Track & Field athlete is the competition. I don't like to lose to anybody, especially my competition from Florida and Texas since they say that they're the fastest in the country. I also like that I can never worry about getting out of shape, and it keeps my fast and explosive on the football field.

What do you consider your greatest strength as a track and field athlete?

My greatest strength as a track & field athlete is being versatile. I'm able to run the 55m, 60m, 100m, 200m, 300m, 400m, long jump, and contribute on a 4x1, 4x2 and 4x4.

What's your favorite event and why?

My favorite event is the 100m because it's a fast and short race, but you have to be technical in all of your phases to run your fastest. Running fast is really fun to me!

When is your first high school outdoor meet and what will you be running?

My first high school meet is this Tuesday. I'm not sure what I'll be running that day, but it will be whatever Coach Booker needs from me. I'm ready.

Who is your favorite college/pro track athlete to watch and why? And what have you learned from watching them? 

My favorite pro track athlete to watch is Trayvon Bromell because both of us are violent at the start and we both have great turnover. Watching him teaches me that I have to stay patient in my drive phase and to not react to what's happening next to me. If you pop up out of the blocks, the race is over for you and it is going to be hard to recover from the awful start.

What type of things do you like to do when you're not practicing, racing, or doing schoolwork? Have any hobbies or are you involved in any other sports or clubs/activities at school?

When I don't have a scheduled workout, I like to read, hang out with my friends, and play video games, but not for a long period of time. The only other sport that I play other than Track & Field is football. I'm going to start getting involved in activities/clubs for my high school next year when we're not remote learning.