It’s only appropriate Dillon Engler competes in the 110- and 300-meter hurdle events. Off the track, the San Benito High senior has had to overcome some sizeable obstacles to get to this point, a breakout season that has impressed even himself and his coaches. Engler has posted the Central Coast Section’s Section’s third fastest time in the 110 hurdles and fourth fastest mark in the 300-meter hurdles.
“I’m very excited to see how it goes and pretty much where I place and how I’m looking to improve from there,” Engler said three days before last Saturday’s CCS Top 8 Classic, which served as a CCS Championship preview of sorts as most of the top track and field athletes were in competition. “I’m feeling pretty good where I’m at right now, because I know I have a lot more in me. I’d like to win league finals and hopefully make the top three in CCS to go to state.”
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Engler produced a spectacular performance at the Top 8 Meet, winning the 110 hurdles race in a personal-record (PR) of 15.09 seconds and taking fourth in the 300 hurdles event in a PR of 39.76 seconds. Two races, two PRs, in the biggest meet of the season so far? It’s no wonder Engler feels the best is still yet to come.
Engler showed why he’ll be a contender in the CCS Championships, particularly in the 110 hurdles race. Engler advanced to the CCS Semifinals last year in that event, finishing 17th in a time of 15.95 seconds. He’s lowered that time considerably this season, with a quantum leap in the 300 hurdles as well. Engler chalks up the difference to a greater sense of motivation and purpose.
“I have more desire than any other year and wanted to make my senior year really great,” he said. “I tried a lot harder this off-season than in any of the past off-seasons.”
Engler combined strength-training and track work to enter his senior season stronger and faster than ever. Engler, who had a solid season playing tight end on the football team last fall, used the off-season to produce personal-best three-rep max lifts in the squat and bench-press. He also took part in endurance training on Mondays, preparing him for some great results this year.
“I knew all that work would help me not only get fast times, but help prevent injuries,” he said.
Like any athlete who is continually looking to improve, Engler works on his technique with Balers’ hurdles coach Ryan Bartylla.
“In terms of form and technique, I want to get my off arm to fire when I’m coming off a hurdle,” he said. “I want to snap my lead leg down and attack each hurdle as the race comes on. It’s nine individual races after the first hurdle, and that is how Ryan tells me to think about the races.”
Engler said he soaked in a lot of practical knowledge and information from former Balers standout Anthony Delgado, who had a PR of 14.50 seconds in the 110 hurdles.
“I definitely learned a lot from him, especially my sophomore year when I really didn’t know what I was doing,” Engler said. “He helped me out a lot, and I always felt like I could do what he could do, and he believed in me, too. He helped me with my form, speed technique and anything having to do with hurdles. I definitely had no idea what I was doing in the first week coming out as a sophomore for my first year of track.”
Engler’s case isn’t uncommon. Thousands of athletes across the nation compete in track and field upon entering high school, not having a strong base of technical knowledge in their events. Engler only tried out for the sport after his sister and Bartylla encouraged him to take up track as a sophomore. Bartylla was one of Engler’s coaches on the junior varsity football team two years ago, and Engler remembers the conversation that led him to the track.
“After seeing me play football, coach Bartylla said I was going to run hurdles for him in the spring during track season,” Engler said. “It’s turned into my favorite sport.”
Engler said he wasn’t 100 percent healthy as a sophomore, as he was still suffering from the lingering effects of a hip injury sustained during football season.
“I was really slow back then and improved tremendously to the point where I’ve surprised myself,” he said.
Engler has come on strong, a result of the intersection of increased confidence, talent and hard work. Even though Engler has posted some big PRs this season, he’s confident additional records are coming. When Engler breaks down the races in which he has run well, he points to a slow start off the blocks or lightly clipping a hurdle as reasons why he feels he can go faster.
He clipped a hurdle in the race in which he ran a fast time at the Avis Kelly Invite, and at the Stanford Invitational he had to calm his nerves due to the atmosphere and the fact he got into the staging area late.
“Once I calmed myself down, I thought about what I could do to run my best race,” he said. “I felt like it was one of my best starts off the blocks so far, but it still wasn’t the best what it could be. I feel like there’s still tons of room for improvement.”
In addition to excelling in both hurdles events, Engler is a part of San Benito’s 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams. That’s a lot of running at a high intensity.
“I’m usually pretty sore after a meet,” he said.
Engler has come a long way on and off the track. Engler said he’s faced adversity growing up, starting with his parents’ divorce when he was around 11 or 12 years old.
“That sent me back a little bit with school and the main focuses of life,” he said. “I remember being homeless for about a week or two of my life, and that tremendously impacted my life. We had a lot of different living arrangements growing up.”
The only constant in Engler’s childhood was change, and yet Engler acknowledges the adversity he went through has strengthened his resolve and character.
“Definitely. It gives you more of a drive to succeed,” he said. “Even when things get me down, I know I can push through and succeed.”
Even though Engler is in the midst of a terrific season, he feels his story is far from being complete, as he continues to develop athletically and grow stronger as a person day by day, hurdle by hurdle.
“I’m excited for the future,” he said. “It’s amazing to see how far I’ve come.”
And how much farther he still can go.