JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It is finally their turn. NC A&T track men’s outdoor track and field program has had superb 400 meters over several years from Dajuan Harding to Trevor Stewart to Randolph Ross Jr.
But on Friday evening during Day 3 of the NCAA East Division I Preliminary Round at the University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium, two more names got added to that impressive list, sophomore Reheem Hayles and junior Shemar Chambers.
Both men, who were on the team when Ross Jr. won back-to-back outdoor 400m NCAA national championships, will now get their turn to win a 400m outdoor national championship at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas, June 7-10. In addition, Hayles and Chambers will join Caleb Jackson and Brandon Nya in Austin as the 4×400-meter relay team also qualified to compete for a national championship by running a 308.13.
Hayles and Chambers have been a dynamic duo for NC A&T Track this season in the 400m. Both will compete individually at championships for the first time in their respective careers. They will be the first 400m runners representing the Colonial Atheltic Association (CAA) since 2013.
In addition, it will be their second outdoor appearance in the 4×400. Hayles and Chambers earned first-team All-America honors last season in the 4×400. NC A&T’s 4×100 team of Nya, Chambers, Malcolm Croom-McFadden and Jackson failed to make nationals. They finished outside of the top-12 with a time of 40.85.
To earn his invitation, Hayles placed second in Heat 3 in 46.74 behind the nation’s No. 1 400m runner in Florida’s Ryan Willie (45.70). Chambers finished fourth in the second heat in 46.89. The two ranked 10th and 11th overall in the quarterfinals.
“Today went smoothly,” said Hayles. “It was not the best because the weather was not the best. But we had to work with it. I got out unusually hard and attacked the wind, but it affected me coming into the last straightaway, so it wasn’t perfect execution, but I got the job done. That’s all that matters for now.”
Despite the first-team All-American honor he received last season, Hayles mentioned wanting a better season than he had individually in 2022. He did finish second at the Big South Conference Outdoor Championships ahead of Chambers and behind Ross Jr., with a then career-best 45.82. He also qualified for the NCAA East prelim, where he reached the quarterfinals but did not qualify for championships.
But this season, he came onto the scene and removed himself from anyone’s shadow. He won his first two 400m indoor races of 2023 on his way to winning the 400m indoor CAA title, the first individual conference title of his career. He earned CAA Men’s Indoor Track Athlete of the Year and CAA Most Outstanding Track Performer for his efforts at the conference indoor championships.
Hayles then hopped on the national radar by winning the 400m at the prestigious University of Florida’s Pepsi Relays with a personal-best 45.47. It was the nation’s No. 1 time and the 10th-best time in the world.
“Last year taught me a lot coming into this year,” said Hayles. “I go to practice every day and try to give my best even when I do not feel like doing anything at all. I go out there and give my 100 percent. It pays off because I have a lot more in the tank. Look out for more.
After the 400, I wasn’t excited because I knew I had messed up. But after looking back on it, it’s fine. I know what I must do, and I have it in me, so I’m excited.”
Chambers had a familiar journey, playing a vital role on the Aggies 4×400 teams while earning national experience by qualifying for regionals. But in 2023, he broke through with his first-ever individual conference title when he won the 200m at the CAA indoor championships before winning the conference’s outdoor 200m title months later.
“Today was a great day,” said Chambers. “It was a very windy day, but I made it happen even though my competition today was top tier. I had to give a top-tier performance. I’ve been working hard, so I deserve this moment.”
Saturday will be the last day of the East prelims, and the focus will be on the women. NC A&T look to graduate Paula Salmon in the 100-meter hurdles and graduate Jada Griffin in the 400m to secure a bid to the NCAA Championships. Salmon’s race is scheduled for 6:15 p.m., and Griffin’s at 6:50 p.m.
Before Saturday, NC A&T Track will continue to enjoy Hayles and Chambers taking their turn in the spotlight.
“It’s been a long journey,” said Chambers. There have been a lot of setbacks and changes of coaches and all of that. I have to give God thanks for how far he has brought me because not everyone can go through different coaches and still make it happen. This is a confidence builder for me. I have to thank God and (coach Allen Johnson, director of track and programs) for all the work we have put in to make it this far. Because of all the hard work I’ve put in, I’m going to contribute a lot at nationals.”