The Speed Academy’s Andre De Grasse heading to USC

Sprinter commits to Trojans track program

COFFEYVILLE, KANSAS -- It’s easy to measure how fast sprinter Andre De Grasse is every time he steps into the starting blocks, a stopwatch defining his success.

It’s another thing to measure how far he has come in such a short time. Just a couple of years ago he was a basketball player who ran track for fun, not even using a starting block for the 100m. This summer he will head to the west coast, where he will be on a scholarship at one of the most prestigious schools in the NCAA, the University of Southern California.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet. Maybe when I get there it probably will,” says De Grasse from Kansas, where he is in his second year at Coffeyville Community College.

The story behind his acceptance to USC started innocently enough, competing at a track meet at York University. One of the coaches who happened by to watch the 100m was Tony Sharpe, of the Pickering-based Speed Academy.

“I watched him start. He was standing sideways like a baseball player, looking at the starter. It’s like you would see a Grade 4 kid do that,” recalls Sharpe with a hearty laugh, noting that even with the unorthodox style, De Grasse ran a 10.90.

“I told him he needed a little help to get to the next level, and handed him my business card.”

A phone call followed to Sharpe, and then a trip to one of his practices. Soon after De Grasse placed in the top four at the OFSAA championships, and then won a race at the Toronto International Games against some of the top high school talent.

“I’m thinking, ‘OK, this kid isn’t normal’. I’ve never seen this and I’ve been in track for 40 years,” says Sharpe.

Sharpe convinced De Grasse to commit to improving his grades while he made some calls about moving on to a junior college down in the states. The Coffeyville Ravens, a community college in Kansas, welcomed De Grasse to their track program.

In two years the 19 year old has set three school records. As a freshman he was a two-time national champion, indoors at 55m and outdoors in the 100m, where he ran a remarkable 9.96. This season he has qualified for indoor nationals in the 60m and 200m. Also on his resume are a fourth-place finish at the Canadian nationals, as well as a silver in the 100m and bronze in the 200m at the Pan American junior track-and-field championships last August in Colombia.

“Here’s a kid that was playing basketball, wasn’t doing any university courses in school and really didn’t have any direction, and in 24 months, we’ve been able to impact this kid’s life,” says Sharpe of the part his club played.

The impact isn’t lost on De Grasse, crediting Sharpe with turning him into a student-athlete.

“He made a big difference in my life,” says De Grasse. “I went from being a regular person to going to one of the biggest schools in the United States. He had a big impact on my life. I appreciate everything he did for me.”

Initially, De Grasse admits to being skeptical about Sharpe’s enthusiasm over his potential.

“I didn’t really believe him but he said I could be really good in this sport. If I trained hard I could get my schooling paid for,” he recalls. “I thought he was just talking. I didn’t really believe him at first. But after a while I got good at the sport. I hung up the basketball shoes and came with the spikes.”

Wise move, one of many.

Tony Sharpe helps score scholarships for track and field stars

tony sharpe

Sharpe, the former Canadian Olympian, runs the Speed Academy, a developmental track and field club in Pickering, which has helped dozens of athletes get NCAA scholarships.

The club was founded in 2006 and Sharpe left his corporate account manager’s job at Bell to track athletes full-time a few years later.

“I’m a full-time coach, you know, not something people do often in Canada,” says Sharpe, 59, adding about 50 Speed Academy athletes have received scholarships.

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