As soon as the starter pistol popped at the NCAA West Preliminaries on May 27, sophomore John Burt and senior Spencer Dunkerley-Offor found themselves at opposite ends of their 110-meter hurdles quarterfinal heat. Burt exploded out of the blocks and cruised his way over the first hurdle, taking the lead. Meanwhile, Dunkerley-Offor pulled up much too early, slowing him down as his competitors gained traction ahead of him.
As they progressed through the midway point of the race, the tables began to turn. Dunkerley-Offor kicked up his speed and made his way forward from the back of the pack until only Burt remained in front of him. Burt, seemingly running out of gas, sensed Dunkerley-Offor charging from behind and searched for a second wind.
“My start, we’re always working on it and it definitely did not happen today,” Dunkerley-Offor said. “But I held on to John pretty much the whole way, trying to catch up to him, hoping to get past him.”
Burt and Dunkerley-Offor took the top two spots in their heat upon crossing the finish line at the West Preliminaries, with the latter finishing just 0.09 seconds behind his teammate. Burt finished his heat at 13.75 seconds, which would have marked a personal best if not for an illegal wind.
“I feel really good about my race,” Burt said. “I was looking for Spencer to kind of push me towards the middle of the race. He did that. I’m really happy that we were able to go one and two.”
After the race, the duo was greeted at the athletes’ tent by fellow Texas hurdlers Rushelle Burton, freshman, Ariel Jones, junior, and Ashley Miller, sophomore. The group exchanged laughs and words of encouragement; all five have qualified for nationals in Eugene, Ore.
“We’re calling ourselves ‘Hurdle Squad,’” associate head coach Tonja Buford-Bailey said. “They have a whole group chat going with the Hurdle Squad (name). They’re just one little group that likes to push and challenge each other, even at practice. So, I think it just worked its way out that they were all really determined to make it.”
Dunkerley-Offor and Burt are now vital assets of the Hurdle Squad. However, the pairing of the two almost never happened.
In addition to being a track star, Dunkerley-Offor was a also a proficient volleyball player in high school. He ended up receiving scholarship offers in both sports.
“I honestly had no idea which one I wanted to do,” Dunkerley-Offor said. “I originally decided I was going to play volleyball, but for a number of reasons, I decided I might as well just stay in my hometown and see how this track thing works out. So far it’s been pretty good.”
Burt, meanwhile, had no hesitation joining the track team, even as a dual-sport athlete. He qualified for nationals during his freshman campaign, and qualified for nationals. His season ended after placing 23rd in the 110-meter hurdles semifinals, unable to advance to the final round.
After a rocky sophomore season as a wide receiver for the Longhorns – in which he had 18 receptions and a touchdown – the Austin-American Statesman reported in January that Burt would not be joining the track team, and instead would focus solely on football.
Eventually, he changed his mind. After the Orange-White Spring Game, Burt returned to the track and made his season debut at the Longhorn Invitational, the final outdoor regular season meet.
“This year I think it took him maybe the first two weeks to remember that he was a runner,” Buford-Bailey said. “It was a little bit harder last year. He was a little bit fitter this time coming in, so it didn’t take us long at all, he’s looking really good.”
Now both healthy and up to speed, the two have found a unique dynamic in their event.
“This year to have both of them together, they have that camaraderie to push each other,” Buford-Bailey said. “John has this really great, powerful start because of football and then Spencer just accelerates so well through the latter part of the race. That’s special, that’s something really special that they have, They compliment each other for sure.”
The Hurdle Squad and 18 other Longhorns will represent Texas at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, which begins June 7. Burt and Dunkerley-Offor plan to execute a strategy similar to their preliminary race.
“If we’re in the same heat, I’m looking for Spencer to pull me towards the end of the race,” Burt said. “If we’re not, it’s still the same thing. Whatever time he runs I’m going to hopefully get somewhere around that so he can pull me to a faster time (in the finals).”