On the right track


Deon Clifford leaps over the barriers in the steeplechase the same way he gets over the barriers in his life. In either case, he doesn’t let any obstacles stop him.

Competitive epitomizes Clifford, the No. 2 Canadian runner and newest member of Florida A&M’s men’s track team.

Clifford had his eyes on the University of Texas at El Paso, but that didn’t work out for the highly touted steeplechase runner.

“Coming out of high school, I had my scholarship dropped by Texas El Paso,” Clifford said. “It was extremely disappointing. After that I ended up at Benedict College.”

Clifford attended Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. for a year, most of which he spent ill.

Just like several other student-athletes, Clifford has had to find that piece of joy through the tough times. He had been running so long that he lost the passion in it.

There were times in his life when he didn’t see himself following through with track unless he was able to train at an elite level. Stress quickly followed and made him want to give up.

“Not being able to compete in the NCAA was sort of a slap in the face,” Clifford said. “It has always been my dream to compete for a Division 1 school like FAMU, and I felt like I had failed.”

Clifford knows all too well the turmoil that faces student-athletes.

“Being a student-athlete is a huge commitment, and sometimes we feel that we need a little more time,” Clifford said. “But it is important to see things through and find ways to re-spark your joy for the sport because it doesn’t feel so much like work when you love doing it.”

Clifford decided to pull through and stick with his love-hate relationship with running, realizing what could possibly be ahead — the Olympics.

Even with his illness at Benedict College, he far exceeded expectations in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

He was Benedict’s Most Valuable Player and Athlete of the Year in 2013. He was also the SIAC Eastern Division 2013 Athlete of the Year and won the steeplechase and 1500-meter run in the SlAC championship.

Head men’s track coach Wayne Angel believes Clifford will take the long distance program to a new level.

“He’s had international experience,” Angel said. “He’s been to the World Youth Championships. He’s probably got the fastest mile time of anyone on the team. I think he’s going to push the guys to another level.”

Clifford began running when he was 6 because of his parents.

“My dad and mom were both big in track and field,” Clifford said. “My dad was a coach at the local club.”

Clifford soon began the steeplechase for fun, and it piqued his curiosity. Little did he know his talent would take him to France in the 11th grade for the World Youth Championships.

“Ever since then, that whole experience and seeing how far I could get coming eighth in the world doing [the steeple chase], I really just made it my main priority,” he said.

Clifford’s long range helps him succeed from the 5K to the 400-meter. Angel said Clifford will be an impact player, giving the team more points.

Fourth-year 400-meter runner Troy Pollard believes Clifford will be a positive addition.

“In his first practice, he looked really good out there with the guys,” Pollard said. “We’re trying to sweep the MEAC Indoor and Outdoor Championships. Dion will add a lot of points we need to win.”

Clifford hopes to run in the Olympics sooner than later, and with his determination, he believes it will happen.