The last time Terrance Laird found himself in this position was 2018 when the then-Penn State freshman was seeded eighth in the 200 meters at the NCAA men’s and women’s indoor track and field championships.
He finished in 12th place.
Since then, much has happened to Laird, a native of Coatesville, Pa. He’s twice transferred, first to Hinds (Miss.) Junior College and then LSU, where as a senior this season he has the world’s fastest 200 indoor time at 20.28 seconds.
He’s the No. 1 seed in the event entering Friday’s semifinal heat and Saturday’s finals in the NCAA indoor championships in Fayetteville, Ark.
“I feel like now I’m at the highest level of amateur athletics,” Laird said. “I’m the No. 1 seed. I feel like it’s cementing the LSU legacy. It’s a bucket list thing. I can get that ring and say I’m a national champion. Records will be broken; times will be run faster. Once you’re a champion in general, they can’t take away from you.”
Laird is among the Tigers’ 10 top-flight competitors, including their 4X400 relay team, battling in the Arkansas’ Randal Tyson Track Center where LSU’s men finished second in the SEC indoor championships two weeks ago. The Tigers have 12 scoring opportunities, which is the second most among teams in the NCAA indoors.
Double Southeastern Conference champion JuVaughn Harrison is top-seeded in both the high jump (7-5 ¾) and long jump (27-4), while SEC champion Damion Thomas is No. 2 in the 60-meter hurdles (7.60). SEC champion Noah Williams is No. 5 in the 400 (45.26) along with No. 5 Eric Edwards in the 60-meter hurdles (7.67) and Sean Dixon-Bodie in the triple jump (54-33 ¾) to highlight the Tigers’ entries.
“We’re real confident,” LSU men’s track coach Dennis Shaver said. “We’re healthy going into the NCAA meet with some great opportunities to score some points and we’re looking forward to it.”
Aside from Harrison, no other LSU athlete appears primed to achieve NCAA glory than Laird, who ran sub-21 seconds in his last three 200s, all at the Tyson Track Center.
In his last two appearances in that venue, Laird has twice lowered the world’s best 200 time and took down LSU’s 15-year-old school record in the event held by one of the program’s all-time greats.
“I kind of feel like we’re back in Baton Rouge,” Laird said of Arkansas’ newly renovated facility. “It’s really weird that I probably feel more comfortable there than I probably feel running at home here. I’ve always run well there. It’s a fun track to run on.”
Laird won the Woo Pig Classic (20.61) on Jan. 22, followed that with a world’s best of time of 20.41 in the Tyson Invitational on Feb. 13 that led into the SEC indoor championships where after posting a 20.46 time in the preliminaries, he bettered his own world’s best with a 20.28 clocking and captured his second straight SEC indoor title on Feb. 27.
Laird’s time also nipped former school record holder Xavier Carter who ran 20.30 in 2006.
“When I first stepped foot on campus last year, that was my goal,” said Laird, who is the 10th fastest collegian at 200 meters. “The better you do breaking records, you’re ahead of what they’ve done. So, it’s putting you in that category. It was showing there was progress being made and I was getting better each week.
“Records are meant to be broken. I feel it was just more about winning a title rather than breaking a record at the SECs. In 20 years, my record may not still be standing, somebody else may come and break my record. I feel like leaving that little legacy at LSU is appreciative.”
Shaver praised Laird’s leadership, work ethic and attention to detail.
“He’s a track nut,” he said. “He’s like your football player that’s all the time watching video of everything they could do to get better. He spends time doing that and I think he’s a good communicator. He’s improved in his mechanics over the past year.”
Laird, who is five-tenths of a second off Richard Thompson’s 60-meter school record (6.51), already has a pair of All-American honors in the 200 indoor and 4×400 relay he earned in his first season at LSU a year ago.
Now, he’s got greater aspirations. But even as the top-seeded runner in his specialty event, there’s no additional pressure.
“I feel like if I execute my race, the sky’s the limit,” he said. “When I’m competing, I’m going to put myself in the best position to win. To put myself in the position to execute as best I can to make sure I have the best chance. I’ll tip my hat win, lose or draw this week to my competition. I’m going to do everything I can to cross the finish line first.”