May 31, 2014
NICEVILLE Thomas Howell the man, the myth, the legend
of Nicevilles long-distance running scene for the last four
years is more than a bit peeved.
This is typical Nick, the University of Florida-bound
senior says of his senior pal, Nick Morken, who is now more
than fashionably late for Thursdays Daily News Large School
Track Athlete of the Year photoshoot.
Five, 10, 15, 20 minutes have passed and still no Morken.
Howell has called him dozens of times, yet no answer. Then
his phone rings. Its Morken, and he explains why hes
late: He was at the track instead of in front of the school,
he left his phone at home, he didnt have his clothes prepared,
This baffles Howell, who is a seasoned pro of Athlete of the
Year interviews at this point.
How seasoned? This should be your sixth Athlete of the
Year four cross country and two track, I explain
to the three-time state champion.
His response: I wouldnt know. Actually its
his seventh if you count his 2013 Gatorade Runner of the Year
Morken finally shows up without a medal. Howell has all nine
(six track, three cross country) of his.
Fittingly, their differences in punctuality speak volumes
of their disparate rises in the long-distance running game.
A league of his own
When Howell posted a 15:56 at the state cross county meet
to medal in sixth as just a freshman, the Sunshine State was
put on notice. Ever since, Howell now standing a lean
5-foot-10, 140 pounds has blazed a path of medals.
In cross country, he has placed sixth, fourth and first at
state, his mountaintop moment coming as a junior. In track,
he ran away with the 3,200-meter state title as a junior and
was a part of the 4x800 relay championship effort this year
alongside Morken, Jack Massey and Tripp Davis. All told, he
has nine medals.
And the latest may be his most prized.
Weve always wanted to win as a team, said
Howell, who ran the second leg of the relay effort that produced
a first-place time of 7:50.56. Its a really big
victory for us. Weve been working together and pushing
each other since early in our careers for this moment.
Howell also finished second in the 3,200 with a time of 9:11.07,
putting a close to a prep career that will take him to the University
of Florida this fall.
UF is getting an awesome guy, an awesome athlete and
theyre getting a really good teammate, Morken said.
Im proud of him and Im really looking forward
to seeing what he can do at the next level.
Added Howell, Im just looking forward to the opportunity
of improving academically and athletically. There are just so
many things that can happen. Its a good feeling to know
that change is coming and a new adventure is about to start.
The prestige of being a Gator comes on the heels of a record-setting
four-year tenure replete with accolades at every turn.
Not only has Howell won nine state medals, but the schools
record-holder in the 3,200 is the only Niceville athlete to
win state in two sports and capture three gold medals. The gold
medals have also produced some prized jewelry, including state
rings that cover the Niceville color spectrum: maroon, white
Looking back at his success, Howell is both nostalgic and
Its an honor to represent this town, he said.
It means a lot to me personally, but going into college
its all about to go away. Im ready to build a new
As is Morken.
Morkens meteoric rise
Morken was introduced to the long-distance running game by
Howell as a middle-schooler, and early on he showed glimpses
of that raw talent.
Yet it didnt translate into the state-wide success until
his junior campaign, when he finished third at state in cross
country and then completed a storybook comeback in the 1,600
to capture track and field state gold.
The 6-0, 145-pound senior continued the momentum into his
swan song, first setting the school record in the 5K with a
time of 15:07.57 in the prestigious FSU Invitational in Tallahassee.
Then this track season, he placed second at state in the 1,600
and was the catalyst behind the 4x800 relay crews state
title. As the anchor, Morken turned what looked to be a third-
or fourth-place finish into gold with a 1:55 800 split, which
was highlighted by him taking the lead with about 500 meters
to go and then opening it up down the final 200.
Asked about the significance of this gold compared to his
1,600, Morken said, Im a lot more proud of this
one. Ill cherish this one the most because I really wanted
us to win as a team.
Morken concludes his time at Niceville with six state medals
(five track, one cross country) and three school records: the
800, 1,600 and 5K.
And before he heads to the University of North Florida, hed
love to add one more to the list.
While the prep campaign has ended, Howell and Morken still
have one meet left before they officially transition to the
next level: the New Balance Nationals Outdoor from June 13-15
in Greensboro, N.C.
The duo will run the 4x800 alongside Massey and Davis, and
the quartet will also compete in the distance medley relay (Davis
the 400, Massey the 800, Howell the 1,200 and Morken the 1,600).
Theyll enter the latter with one goal at the forefront:
setting the school record.
Their 7:50.56 state-title time missed the school record by
.01 seconds set at state in 1998 during a third-place
Thats one of the main reasons we wanted to go to
nationals, Morken said of the record. I think we
should get it. Were just going to try and do the best
we can. Its a fun meet and I want to run one more time
with these guys before I head off to college.
Howell agrees on both accounts, but not before throwing out
the possibility of national glory.
Id love to come home with a national championship,
he said, but Id rather go in with low expectations
and enjoy our last hoorah before college.
If the record isnt meant to be, the two will bask in
the glory of sharing in their second straight Track Athlete
of the Year honor.
Its special, Morken said. Its
just another accolade to show the hard work has paid off. I
had a great support system of coaches, friends, family and teammates,
and Im really thankful to be Athlete of the Year.
Howell also took the chance to thank his support system.
Its a nice final opportunity to thank the community
for supporting us and just helping us grow through this entire
process, he said. And its another opportunity
to thank my family for always being there.
So how will the two who remain the lone athletes in
school history with two state track golds cope with running
on separate teams for the first time ever?
Oh, man, Im looking forward to it, quipped
Morken, who quickly followed, Im just kidding. Thomas
Meanwhile for Howell, the competitive fire still burns bright.
Im looking forward to the few races that we have
each season that we can compete against each other, Howell
said. That will be awesome.
Boys Large School Track and Field All-Area Team
Athletes of the Year: Thomas Howell and Nick Morken, Niceville
Tripp Davis, Niceville
Jack Massey, Niceville
Roman Spear, Navarre
Corey Bonner, FWB
Garrison Floyd, Choctaw
Davis McKinney, FWB
Trace McMullen, FWB
Trey LaNasa, FWB
Nick Monson, FWB
*Team is comprised of state-medalists
Alex Wattley, Navarre
Dominick Wolf, FWB
Christian Gill, Navarre
Caden Ewing, Niceville
Savon Amos, FWB
*Team is comprised of state qualifiers