TAMPA - Dentarius Locke is giddy. That's because Locke - who this year ranks No. 4 in the United States after running 100 meters in 9.97 seconds - received a running uniform in the mail last week with USA printed across the chest. "USA!" said Locke, who leaves Sunday with the national team for a sprint camp in Monaco and a chance to qualify for the World Championships in Moscow, Aug. 10-18. "Can you believe it? I'm living my dream. It's finally happening." In 2009, Locke ran for Chamberlain and set state high school records in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, running 10.32 and 20.58 seconds, respectively.
After that, he went to the University of Tennessee and ran into frustration. The first setback came in the fall of 2009, when he learned an online class he took in high school didn't meet NCAA standards. He was ruled ineligible, forced to turn in textbooks and was told he had to pay out-of-state tuition. Locke fought the ruling and was able to keep his scholarship. As for running - the thing he loves more than anything - he had to sit out the 2009-10 school year. In 2010-11 he got his first chance at the collegiate level, running in a Tennessee uniform as a redshirt freshman - and he tore it up. He earned All-America honors indoors and outdoors and was named Southeastern Conference freshman of the year. Then . more frustration. Locke's sprint coach at Tennessee, Norbert Elliott, was fired, which followed the retirement a year earlier of head coach Bill Webb, the man who had recruited Locke. After that, Locke asked Tennessee for a release from his scholarship, but the Vols denied the request, which meant if Locke transferred he would have to sit out another year. Locke obtained an attorney in an attempt to gain his release, but he eventually let it drop. He headed to Florida State, where he had to sit out the 2011-12 school year. Then . success. In 2012-13, Locke earned All-America honors, running the 60, 100 and 200 meters while placing second in the 100 meters at the NCAA nationals in a wind-aided 9.91 seconds. Officially, his 9.97-second time in the 100 at U.S. Nationals was the fastest time for a college athlete this year and No. 8 all-time on the college level. The 9.97 is also the seventh-fastest in the world this year. "I am pleased, but I'm far from finished," said Locke, who announced this week he is returning next year to FSU, a place that has become near and dear to his heart. "Now I'm ready to work even harder, get stronger and run faster." One goal is to break the NCAA 100-meter record of 9.89 seconds, set by former FSU star Ngoni Makusha in 2011. The goal appears attainable, because Locke not only has room to gain core and leg strength, which could lengthen his stride, but he could also refine his start. Get those things down and watch out, says Locke's former coach at Chamberlain, Hansford Johnson, who still talks to Locke nearly every day. "The difference between (Locke) and some athletes is that he has the talent, but he also loves, loves, loves running and he appreciates every moment surrounding it," Johnson said. "When he got that USA uniform, you should have heard him. He put it on to see how it fit and he was taking pictures with it on and sending the pictures out. "I mean, it makes you feel good to see an athlete like that appreciate his talent and his sport that much. It's awesome." Through the ups and downs, Locke, 23, never lost his passion. "I couldn't stand sitting out those two years, but I still loved it," Locke said. "I even looked forward to practice, lacing up my spikes and working at it. I was so excited to run my first race in January (at FSU) that I literally packed my bag in October. "Now I get to pack up an official USA uniform. It doesn't get much better than that." firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 731-5336 Twitter: @TBO_PrepSports