LEXINGTON – He’s been a very good tennis player for a very long time, ever since he was tiny and could almost hide behind the face of his racquet.
Eventually, it got to a point where Tommy Secrist, the reigning Ohio Cardinal Conference Player of the Year, nearly outstripped Lexington’s powerful high school team.
Only in this case it was not positive growth.
“He told me he was fascinated by football because his buddies played it, and he started enjoying lifting (weights),” said Lex tennis coach Ron Schaub. “He got bigger, but maybe he took it too far.”
When Secrist’s second season and all of his music-related school activities were canceled in 2020 due to COVID, he turned to the weight room as an outlet and vowed to play football for the first time last fall.
For that he had to get bigger. PB and BP – peanut butter and bench press – were the perfect recipe for putting on pounds.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve gained a lot of muscle,” he said with a lopsided grin, “but I’ve gained nearly 40 pounds.”
While Secrist was just building up, the OHSAA gave the green light for the sport to return in his junior year, meaning he had a 2021 tennis season to play last spring.
That’s when it became clear that bigger isn’t better.
Secrist still excelled on many levels, leading the Minutemen to a third straight OCC championship and earning the highest singles honors in the conference, along with a section singles title. But at the district tournament with a chance to reach the state, he lost his target match in three sets.
Not because he didn’t have the talent to progress, or because his opponent was necessarily better than him. He just ran out of gas and was lugging the proverbial piano on his back.
“To be honest, even though he was tall, he was still a good athlete and he had good intentions,” said Schaub. “He didn’t look like the same boy, but he still fought really hard… just with an extra 40 pounds.
“He’s always been quite mature and quite competitive with his game. But in this threesome, he couldn’t quite pull it off.
That was enlightening and prompted Secrist to retire from his pursuit of football along with all that extra scope he had worked so hard to acquire.
It was gone in seven months.
“I think a big part of the motivation to lose weight was all the comments,” Secrist said. “I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus because in the end it was all my fault. I wouldn’t hear from anyone else. I had to sit down with myself and work through this.”
“Guilt” seems like too harsh a word. It implies there was a reason to apologize. For what? As Schaub emphasized, Secrist had good intentions.
At 180 pounds, Secrist would have been a welcome addition to the football program with his athleticism. But as the precincts loss made clear, it would have come at the expense of his tennis game.
And that’s a trade Secrist ultimately didn’t want to make.
“From a parent’s perspective, the world has ended his sophomore year,” said Jeremy Secrist, Tommy’s father and Lexington Superintendent. “This (Lex) team, Benton Drake’s senior year, knew they were going to say and (Tommy) knew he was going to be No. 2 (behind Drake) and they were excited.
“He has cared about two things all his life – tennis and music. And he lost everything. So I kind of pushed him to do anything that would help keep his head up. Talk to (soccer) coach (Taylor) Gerhardt. Find something else to motivate you because he was on the trash like so many of our kids who have lost so many things over the last three years due to COVID.
“In the end, losing in the districts when he knew he was going to say if he won that match made him a different kid.”
Secrist reshaped his physique – again – and while he lost weight, he gained a new appreciation for tennis that will lead him to extend his career at Capital University.
“For a while I was upset, why was I wasting the time (preparing for football)?” said Sekrist. “But then I realized I needed to build a fitness foundation because I had no prior training experience.
“I’m definitely grateful for the time I’ve spent in the weight room and all the people I’ve met and the connections I’ve made and the knowledge I’ve gained about my body.”
Secrist’s daily routine since last summer has been geared towards ending his senior year strong. His Minutemen started this spring 4-0 in their quest for a return to the Division II Final Four.
This lighter, stronger, and faster version of himself is certainly an overwhelming favorite to be repeated as OCC Player of the Year, and perhaps that will make him the stepping stone to the OHSAA state tournament for the first time.
“He trains every day,” said Jeremy Secrist. “He comes home from school, trains, goes to tennis practice. Between yoga, body resistance training and some of the other light exercises he does, he picked up speed and just had a great summer playing a lot of tennis. He’s in the best shape of his life.”
“I feel a lot lighter on my feet,” he said. “Even if someone is better than me, I know I can get all the balls.”
Despite all the work Secrist has done to improve himself and his playing, he could be an even better violinist. In February he was elected to the state orchestra along with six other classmates.
In college, he will study music technology and join a Capital tennis team where five of the six starters in singles are newbies. In the fall, the school’s singles and doubles players had a combined 22-5 record.
So Secrist would benefit from being at the top of his game by joining this burgeoning program.
“I think (college) is crucial because then you’re shooting at something,” Schaub said. “You’re aiming for the next level, so you think I’m going to keep working super hard because I want to get even better in college.
“When he’s on the pitch, Tommy is no-nonsense. I think the rest of our kids are following his example. It’s more about the way he practices than anything he says.”
Check that, don’t eat.