Parkite Paul Baynes recently signed his national letter of intent to run track for the University of Notre Dame
When Paul Baynes stood at a table in the cafeteria of Park City High School on Wednesday, March 3, he looked out and saw nearly 100 of his classmates, teammates, friends and family members staring back at him — and all he could do was smile.
While Baynes sat down, Park City track and field coach Dave Yocum started talking with the crowd, entertaining the throng of observers with a story of Baynes three years prior when he was skinny freshman and came out to run track for the first time.
When the laughter died down, all eyes focused back on Baynes as he put pen to paper, signing his national letter of intent to run track at the University of Notre Dame, one of the most prestigious colleges in the nation and a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I couldn’t imagine myself going anywhere that’s going to make me a better student, a better athlete and hopefully a better person,” Baynes said. “When I was looking at colleges, I wanted track to help me get into a college that academically I couldn’t get into by myself. It’s a perfect fit, the best part of both worlds for me in the classroom and on the track and hit all the check marks.”
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Before he signed that national letter of intent, Baynes’ journey to becoming a member of the Fighting Irish was looking grim.
He began emailing college track and field coaches prior to the start of his junior season, contacting anyone from Ivy League schools to Division III colleges. With the D-III colleges, Baynes entertained the idea of participating in football as well, but in the end he knew that the competition on the track wasn’t exactly what he was looking for.
However, despite his relentlessness emailing the school, Notre Dame was one of the colleges that never got back to him.
“I got a lot of responses from coaches, but nothing from Notre Dame,” Baynes said. “But what I didn’t know is that they were going through a coaching transition with a different staff taking over. But I kept emailing them whenever I would get a PR, hoping to hear back. … And then I did.”
The email response couldn’t have come at a better time.
It was early in the school year and he was struggling a little bit. A former second-team all-state football player as a junior, Baynes’s senior season on the gridiron got cut short due to a shoulder injury, one that would require surgery in the upcoming weeks.
As he sat in the cafeteria feeling down about not playing football anymore, Baynes checked his email to see if any of the college coaches he’d been in previous contact with had responded to his latest email.
And there it was, the email he’d been longing for. Responding to Baynes was Notre Dame’s sprint coach Wayne Pate, stating how the Fighting Irish were very interested in him.
“It was surreal, so crazy and just out of the blue to be honest,” Baynes said.
Now that he’s getting healthy, Baynes has been tearing up the indoor track and field scene, finishing eighth last month in the 400-meter at the prestigious Simplot Games.
“Paul had a great meet, and he’s still coming off the injury so he’s trying to get fully up to speed and shape,” Yocum said. “For him to run four different 400s in two days and still compete as well as he did is a testament to what he can do. … Especially when he becomes fully healthy.”
With the outdoor season fast approaching, Baynes has large goals in mind for himself. He wants to win a state title in the 400-meter, his top event, while also setting personal bests in the 100, 200 and 400-meter races.
“I prefer the 400 compared to the 100 and 200 because you have to do everything well, but at the end of the day you’re toast and burnt from running it,” Baynes said. “I want to break 48 (seconds) in the 400, 22 in the 200 and 10 in the 100, all times that I think I can do. These are definitely some huge jumps but I’m ready for it.”
Following the completion of high school, Baynes also has his eyes set on some goals once he gets to Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish boast one of the best distance medley relay teams in the country, having won the ACC Championship the two years. Notre Dame’s DMR team — which is a four-person relay that consists of legs of 400, 800, 1200 and 1600-meters —recently finished in a time 9 minutes and 25.8 seconds. That time was a program record, track record, ACC record and the second-fastest time ever recorded in NCAA indoor track and field history.
But Baynes isn’t intimidated.
“Going into Notre Dame with a 47.9 or lower in the 400 would really set me apart,” he said. “My goal for the first year is to be their No. 1 guy in the 400 and then be a part of that DMR team. I follow their guys and they’ve already got a great squad. … They’ve got great competition and I love that. I want to be a part of it and contribute to more success.”
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It’s going to be at least another month before Summit County’s high school athletes have any chance of getting onto the field again.