The shape of Matt Clements' spring changed this year.
For the past two seasons, his spring sports season had been about baseball diamonds. It's different now, rounded and shaped into a track oval, but it's a wonderful fit.
Clements has discarded baseball for track and field, a decision he felt he had to make and one that Barron Collier's track coaches love that he made. In half a season, this quick study has become one of Southwest Florida's best track and field athletes. The goal of acclimating to this new sport is done. The new goal of dominating it is at hand.
For his first two years of high school, the junior Clements was an outfielder with the Barron Collier baseball team, working as a pinch-runner on a squad loaded with experience. Baseball was one of his loves, yet he knew football was his future, which spurred his move to the track.
Clements already had made a name for himself on the football field, earning 2005 Class 4A second-team status as a wide receiver, and the Division I college letters already started stacking in football coach Bill Sparacio's office. But Clements felt his name would be pushed further into recruiters' consciences if he joined the track team.
"I just figured in order for me to get better and to make my team better in football, I had to do this," Clements said. "I miss (baseball), but I felt it was a good decision."
It was, both for him and the Barron track team. Cougars boys track coach Matt Keraus figured he'd get a good 200-meter dash runner, but he didn't realize how good a runner he would get until the first time trial at practice. Keraus asked Clements to run the 400-meter dash and Clements crossed the finish line in 50.6 seconds.
Clements asked Keraus if that was a good time. Keraus told Clements that his time was just one second off the school record. Then Keraus knew exactly why he had wanted Clements on the team since he entered the school.
"Ever since he was a freshman, I wanted him on the team," Keraus said. "Every year, I just bothered him to come out. I don't think he's even tapped into what he can do."
Keraus and Clements got a shining example of that at this past weekend's Cougar Challenge track meet. Clements has been competing in the high jump, but using the old-school scissor kick to clear the bar and cleared 5 feet, 8 inches doing it. He knew, though, that he'd have to switch to the Fosbury Flop if he wanted to get higher.
So, armed just with some pointers from Kevin Van Duser, the football team's life skills coordinator,Clements tried the flop for the first time — and cleared 6 feet, 4 inches to finish second.
"Pastor Van Duser came out and told him to do this and do that and in five minutes, he figured out how to flop," Keraus said.
Clements broke the school record in the 400 twice at that same meet, dropping it to a flat 49 seconds to win the event. Clements' ability to be a quick study impresses Keraus as much as his physical feats.
"He's just sucking in everything you tell him," Keraus said. "Any other kid, you tell him and it's going to take them months to figure it out, and he did it in five minutes."
Now that he knows how good he is, and how good he possibly could be, Clements has his sights set on the postseason — for good reason. With last year's Class 3A state meet as a guideline, his 6-4 high jump would have him in at least seventh place. Two more inches could put him as high as second. His school-record 400 time would have placed him fifth in last year's state meet.
Clements said he'll continue working to reach a higher level — because that's what is expected of him and what he expects of himself.
"I'm kind of surprised at what I'm doing," Clements said. "I just look at it as what am I supposed to do? I'm supposed to go out there and try as hard as I can."