When Sam Barlet started his career with Elmore County track and field, the team didn’t own legitimate hurdles for him to practice on.
Even today Barlet can only train with five high hurdles with the Panthers for his best event, the 110-meter hurdles, which includes 10 of the jump-based obstacles.
The fact that the senior is now known as one of the most technically sound hurdlers in Alabama Class 5A is a testament to the work ethic of an athlete who’s been essential to boosting the Elmore County track and field program, both in competition and in developing for the future.
“Even off the track, he’ll stand up and tell the team how proud of them he is,” Elmore County head coach Joseph Snelick said. “He’s just good to have around.”
Snelick and Barlet agreed that the hurdler has never been the most physically gifted in his races.
With a 6-foot-5 frame that doesn’t easily explode from starting blocks, Barlet said the key is how he gets over the hurdles.
“His technique is everything,” Snelick said. “He’s not the fastest footspeed wise, but since his technique is so clean, that’s how he can keep up with the big boys.”
By keeping his legs low and body “crunched down” toward the barricades, Barlet is able to maintain his speed throughout the duration of his races.
“You’re technically jumping over a hurdle, but it’s like you’re continuing to run,” Barlet said. “It’s not supposed to disrupt your running style. So you go over the hurdle and snap both legs through and just keep running all in one stride.”
Barlet started racing in the event in seventh grade, and called upon the advice of his father Brian Barlet, who hurdled at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.
Biran Barlet said Sam’s form took a few years to tweak, especially the pattern of taking exactly three steps between each jump.
“He couldn’t do that for the longest time,” Brian Barlet said. “He was about 6’3, and I kept telling him, ‘Hey man, your short dad did it. The distance didn’t change, I promise ya.’ For me it was the moment he realized that three steps was not a problem for him, then he could just focus on, ‘Okay, how do I get my head down? How do I get my lead leg out? How do I get my trail leg extended the right way?”
It also helped that Barlet started working with former Elmore County track and field hurdler Jakob Hodges, who holds the school record in the 110 hurdles at 16.20 seconds. Barlet’s best time is No. 2 in school history at 16.63 seconds.
In his sophomore season, Barlet came within three spots of placing at the state championships, finishing 11th.
“He knew what he was doing. He definitely did not have to take the time out of his day to teach me how to do hurdles, but he did,” Barlet said. “So I think that was definitely influential.”
His times would have been competitive at the state meet in 2020, but the season was cut short due to COVID-19.
This year he could compete for a podium position, perhaps even a medal, Snelick and Brian Barlet said.
The elder Barlet, a self-described “number geek,” enjoys keeping spreadsheets on where Sam stands among the top hurdlers in the state, but his son doesn’t like to think that far ahead.
An extra bar Barlet will have to clear to achieve a high finish in the state championships is Elmore County’s move from Class 4A up to 5A.
“I absolutely cannot look at that,” Barlet said. “It makes me so uncontrollably nervous. Like, I cannot look at the spreadsheet. I don’t want to know what everyone’s time is and what I’m competing against. So my goal is to get to state, and then at state just do as best as possible.”
Another way Snelick has seen Barlet mature is in his leadership.
He said that’ll be among the hardest things to replace for the Panthers.
“He’s just a good kid,” Snelick said. “When I tell him something, like get this tent set up or make sure the team makes this team meeting at 10:45, I can just trust him to get it done. There aren’t many people that you can just trust to do that, especially nowadays.”
It appears in more ways than the example the hurdler sets.
On the first day of track practice this season, Snelick asked team members which events they were thinking about doing.
Barlet had been the squad’s only hurdler in 2020. Three new kids stepped forward for hurdles at that practice.
Knowing that hurdling isn’t an event you can immediately step into, and the structure of practice is such that athletes often work on their general physical shape more so than technique, Sam and Brian Barlet decided to spend extra time after practices coaching the new athletes.
“It’s kind of like passing on the hurdles to the next team,” Barlet said. “Pretty much any day that I don’t have a soccer game, we stay after track practice and help teach them form, help them get the three steps.”
Barlet’s track and field career will come to an end after the state meet, he said.
He plans to attend Vanderbilt University and double major in cinema/media arts and marketing. He won’t be pursuing athletics.
But he is thankful for his time in the sport, and said it was a fun journey that brought him plenty of friendships.
“Your team does score, but for your event or events, that’s definitely something you have to be self-driven for,” Barlet said. “So I think that teaches you a lot actually, to be motivated for yourself and work hard for yourself so that you can help your team. I think it’s been great formatively.”