COVINGTON, Ga. — When the track season began, Elija Godwin had his sights firmly set on helping the Newton Rams boys team win its second straight state championship in the last three years.
Now, a couple of minor hamstring injuries and the prospects of a bright future at Georgia has shifted Godwin’s gaze. The two-time defending champion in the 200 and 400 meters had been doing his best to make sure he was running at 100 percent for this week’s state track meet. But a couple of text messages from his future UGA coaches gave him a different perspective.
“Getting well enough to run (for state) was definitely my goal at the time,” Godwin said. “But all season I’ve kind of been dealing with the hamstring. So once my coaches at Georgia were like, ‘that may not be a good idea. you may hurt yourself too badly to where you’ll have a terrible freshman year,’ I took that advice and shut it down.”
Now instead of rush treatments to prepare for a last high school hurrah, Godwin is downshifting to prepare for life after high school graduation — which, of course, includes running.
“The World 19u is coming in June, so that’s what I’m preparing for now,” Godwin said. “Worlds is kind of like the Olympics in the years that the Olympics don’t come around. I’ll be looking to qualify.”
Then after that, it’s all roads leading to Athens, as Godwin will report to the UGA campus in August in time for classes to start. The Newton track star said he knew that pulling away from state track meet competition wasn’t going to sit too well with Rams coach Kevin Barnes. But when Godwin told him of his decision, he found understanding.
“As a coach, he really wants to win state, and I’m a big piece of that, so it wasn’t all smiles,” Godwin said. “But he respects the decision. He knows where I’m headed, and if I go out there and try to rush back for state, I’m literally putting money on the line.”
Godwin has flirted with the idea of engaging in a pro career right out of high school, a la Candace Hill, a Rockdale grad who signed a 10-year contract with ASICS straight out of high school after becoming the first high school woman to run a sub-11 seconds time in the 100 meters.
But Godwin said he is greatly anticipating college life as a student-athlete, both on and off the track.
“The thing about going pro right away is that you can’t run at college which means you can’t get any scholarships,” he said. “I feel like getting paid to go to school and do what you love, but also getting an education out of it is a dream come true. I’d rather go to college, compete on the collegiate level, have the college experience that I think everyone should have, and find out what I want to do in life after running because you can’t run forever.”
Godwin said that him working his way onto the football field at Georgia is still a possibility, especially if he wants to translate his track speed to special teams, returning kicks, etc. But the 5-foot-11, 180-pound three-star safety prospect isn’t even in a rush to think about that.
“I think I’d rather stick with track for now,” he said. “Football has to wake up too early for practice, and I’m not a big morning person.”
He said he’ll begin as a business major with a minor in psychology. But because college is triggering Godwin’s exploratory mode, even that isn’t etched in stone. He said he’d like to entertain various job fields — anything from counseling to sports journalism.
“I have to find something I like doing off the track and off the football field,” Godwin said. “Hopefully something where I can get paid well and enjoy doing and make a difference in people’s lives.”