Sports career

He’s on the right track: Otis Slayton overcomes injuries, COVID-19 in sports career | local sports

Former Halifax County High School track and football player Otis Slayton glanced over his shoulder to watch his former high school track team begin training before they kicked off hers recently at the Tisha Waller Track & Field Complex.

Slayton’s mind was not just about resuming a thriving on-track career at Hampton University, but the long journey to get to this point in his life, after an injury in his first year of football at the high school threatened to derail his athletic career.

“There were 100 million things to assess after being injured,” the normally carefree athlete said with a ready smile.

Slayton has grown emotionally and spiritually since this low point in his life with the help of a number of mentors, including his parents, Lisa and Otis Slayton Sr., and the late 1st Sgt. Gregory Scott, a JROTC instructor at Halifax County High School, who served as an assistant track coach his sophomore year.

“The only sport I did was athletics in my second year, and when I had questions I went to see him,” he recalls.

“He was my greatest mentor.”

Every day was a mental challenge as he recovered from his injury, according to Slayton.

“By the time I woke up, my meds had run out and you were hurting a little, and that’s when you were most depressed,” Slayton recalled.

“I had to tell myself that I couldn’t go out like that. It’s my whole identity, competing, so I’m going to do whatever it takes.

“You couldn’t really tell me anything else, and I had my doubts, but success is a choice, and you have to make that decision every day.”

Slayton discovered his athletic niche after competing in basketball and football as a youth and while a student at Halifax County Middle School.

Halifax County High School’s Otis Slayton soars to the pit in the triple jump during a 2018 Piedmont District Athletics Championship meet at Halifax County High School.

He didn’t start his career on the track until his seventh year and didn’t realize his potential in the sport until his freshman year in high school, where he stood out in the long jump, 100 meters and 200. meters. and relay events, with top-three finishes in the state in multiple events.

“My goals became clear during my first year. I had to prove to myself that I was still that caliber of athlete,” said Slayton, whose goal was to compete at the Division I level in college in track and field, basketball or football.

“In my mind, I don’t like to settle for anything less than I want,” said Slayton, who received calls from a number of smaller schools but was determined to compete. at a higher level.

A chance meeting with one of his former coaches helped him head to Hampton University.

Darius Jennings, a former high school coach from Slayton, called him and asked how recruiting was going, and Jennings then sent his track stats to more than 12 colleges, including Hampton University, his top pick. .

At the end of May, while having dinner with his family, Slayton received a text message from the athletics coach at Hampton University.

“Otis, we’ve seen what you can do and we’d like to talk recruiting and scholarship with you,” Slayton said, recalling the text message.

“After reading this post, the tears just started to flow. I finally got the opportunity to compete in a Division I college.

“That was the biggest turning point that proved to me that I’m still that caliber of athlete.”

His freshman year, Slayton finished second in the region in the long jump and fifth in the Big South Conference, but he was forced to assess his academic and athletic career at Hampton University when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the campus to close, with sports canceled and virtual learning now part of daily life.

“It was another period of growth. I had made it and was just getting into a rhythm and doing everything right, and once COVID-19 hit it was back to square one,” said Slayton, who was studying for a business degree. and held a 3.0 GPA when COVID-19 hit.

The COVID-19 delay gave him time to reflect and gain extra motivation to finish what he started.

“The time I spent at home was motivating, and I can’t explain how much I enjoyed that time at home,” he noted.

“At first I was angry and upset that things seemed to be swept away in the blink of an eye, but I was able to grow and mature and understand that I could work to improve not only as an athlete, but as a man.”

Slayton’s ultimate goals go beyond sports.

“I want to make sure that I will be remembered in Hampton and other areas not only as an incredible athlete but also as a man of God, and sport is good, but at the end of the day it’s what you do for others and how you treat others,” Slayton says.

After so much time away, Slayton is looking forward to resuming his academic and athletic career.

“I want to be someone young people can look up to, and whatever your goal is, if that’s what you want, you share it,” Slayton explained.

“That’s how I see it, the only person who can stop you from reaching your goal is yourself.”