High School Sports

Reluctant Palmetto track star signs to run at Florida Atlantic University

PALMETTO -- Jada Massie always knew she was fast. Track and field just never crossed her mind.

She was always softball player -- her father first introduced her to the sport -- and she starred for Palmetto High in right field.

The track and field coaches knew about the speedy outfielder, but were never going to try to pull her away from her favorite sport. Massie's journey to the track, and the national letter of intent she signed with Florida Atlantic University on Friday, would have to be her decision.

"It's pretty exciting to know that I'm going to be there for the next four years," Massie said of FAU.

Massie signed her letter during a ceremony at the school's new auditorium. She joined track teammate Jermisha Collins, who commited to play basketball at NAIA Edward Waters College in Jacksonville.

Collins, a three-time Herald All-Area selection, scored 2,022 points in her Palmetto basketball career.

It was Massie's uncle who first planted the idea of track in her head. During the summer after her sophomore year, Massie was on the beach with her family, running barefoot.

At first she resisted the notion of running track -- it just didn't sound appealing to her. She needed a scholarship, though, and her speed could be a ticket to college.

"She fought against it. We basically had to threaten to take away everything," said her mother, Rosalind Massie. "I knew we needed scholarship money and I knew that she had a talent, and I didn't want her to waste her talent."

Eventually, after her parents told her that she had to run track or she wouldn't play softball either, Massie folded and went into her junior year with the intention of doing both.

But the Tiger softball team had a policy prohibiting players from competing in another sport during the same season. Rosalind Massie had to go to the coaches and fight for a chance, one that they eventually submitted to so they could keep Massie on the field.

Her junior season was a struggle. Every day after school she'd attend softball practice for an hour or more, then head to the track for practice. She had to go through both team's schedules and figure out how to avoid conflicting times for softball games and track meets. She even had to sit out the county track meet because of a softball game.

"It was a struggle," assistant track and field coach Rod Martin said. "She had to work very hard because we knew she was really tired sometimes, but it was a real push."

Even while splitting her time between two sports and getting used to the nuances of track, Massie became one of the fastest runners in the state. She qualified for the Class 3A state meet in the 100-meter dash in 2014 and finished with the 11th fastest time during preliminaries in Jacksonville.

A year later, she left the softball team to focus on track full time and finished seventh in the 100 dash at state. She was also part of a 400 relay team that finished ninth. Her personal record of 11.90 seconds in the 100 she set earlier in the season tied for school record. The two fastest FAU runners have times of 11.70 and 11.80, Massie said.

"I'm looking to go and have a great freshman year and work my way toward breaking their 100-meter record," Massie said. FAU broke its 400 relay record this past season, and Massie expects to compete for a spot on that relay as a freshman, too.

Last week, Massie went down to Boca Raton to meet with the Owls coaches and see the campus. On Thursday, she received the scholarship offer and verbally committed to FAU, choosing it over Florida International. Eighty percent of her tuition will be covered by the schools with the other 20 percent being covered by the Bright Futures Scholarship Foundation.

Massie was blown away by the program and associate head coach John Guarino, who coached gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas. With that coaching and the extensive weight and nutrition training she'll receive with the Owls, Massie and her high school coaches expect that she'll be able to contend at the NCAA level.

"Next year should be a really good year for her," Turner said. "Her time should drop dramatically. It's probably gonna freak her out how fast she can run."