In a classroom packed to the rafters with the remnants of broken electrical circuits and old computer parts, T.C. Williams High School track coach Michael Hughes pondered a question: did his first impressions of Noah and Josephus Lyles give away their potential?
“That’s kind of like asking, could you tell Beethoven was going to be a good piano player?” he replied.
“Yeah, as soon as he sat down at the piano. Same thing here. You could tell these guys were higher class than the normal athlete. We could see it coming from a long way away.”
He recalls a story told by a P.E. teacher of how when Noah, who had recently started at the school, was sent out on a run with the rest of his class.
“He was miles ahead of the night sky. I mean, it wasn’t even close. Noah came back and said, ‘I’m finished.’ The teacher said, ‘I don’t believe you, we’ve only been out here five minutes.’”
“Then the rest of the class is not even halfway around the field yet. And so he said, ‘Well, if you want me to, I’ll run it again.’ And he went and passed them all again and did two laps in the time it took the rest of the class to do one. Oh, I knew this kid was great at that moment.”
During the day, Hughes teaches students electrical engineering and cyber security, but when the bell rings he becomes Coach Hughes, the indomitable athletics strategist who has shepherded multiple top level sporting talents through our high school.
So earlier this month when Noah, 22, became the 200m world champion at the World Athletics Championship in Doha, Qatar, it comes as no surprise that he observed the race with a critical eye.
Hughes did not feel nervous — just a little apprehensive as his former student readied himself at the starting line.
“I felt he was ready. And I know how much better he is than his competition. And so I knew that he could do it, and he did,” he said.
“I feel he dipped down at about 140 meters into the race. There were still too many people with a shot at him and he had to really work.”
“He worked hard in the race, much harder than he should have had to. Took him longer than it should have.”
Although blessed with unquestionable natural talent, it took a village to help Noah Lyles become the athlete who is tipped for Olympic gold next year in Tokyo.
In those critical early years, that job fell to the T.C. Williams Track and Field program. Three coaches in particular played key roles: Jim Garner, Rashawn Jackson and Michael Hughes.
While both Garner and Jackson have moved on from ACPS, Coach Hughes remains a major presence at T.C. where his decades of experience has elevated him to legendary status. In 2018 he was named Winter All-Met Coach of the Year for Boys Indoor Track and Field by the Washington Post.
Working closely with their mother, Keisha Caine Bishop, the trio took care of every aspect of training for Noah and his brother, Josephus, 21, a top middle distance runner.
The three men coordinated a highly strategized schedule to hone their individual talents, thinking of their future careers rather than cashing in on their success for the school.
They were careful to explain and discuss their decision-making process to the pair at each step and although questions would arise, ultimately, the young men trusted their coaches.
They trained hard year round. In the depths of winter when the temperatures fell, the coaches laid out portable runway material in the hallways and the nearby Episcopal High School would invite them to use their indoor track facilities.
“My staff and I feel like we really did them right and that we didn’t over race him. We didn’t get over excited that we had these great athletes.”
“Because I know where you hit the big time and it wasn’t my time to take their skills to that level. A lot of the high school coaches will take and exploit an athlete like that until they run the desire out of them. And we were very cautious about overworking them.”
“We always aimed for them to be great collegian athletes and so we didn’t use him up in the high school world. They both were great athletes and could have done a lot more than they did in high school. And we would have won a lot more things as a team. But it wouldn’t have served them correctly because it might not have gotten them where they are today.”
Now, both brothers have their eyes firmly on the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year. Noah is expected to compete in both the 100m and 200m with Josephus expected to compete in the 400m.
Coach Hughes believes that the pair — just 12 months apart in age — have different strengths but are equally talented.
And that talk of Noah being the next Usain Bolt?
“It’s not just hype,” he said. Arguably, he is faster than Bolt was at his age, running both the 200m and 100 meters faster than Usain Bolt did at the same age.
“You can say that he’s probably two to four years ahead of Usain Bolt at the same chronological site.”
He added, “Noah had his goals set on this since he could think. His goal is to be an Olympic champion. After that he wants to be probably the best sprinter that ever lived. So I mean he has high goals.”
Two weeks ago they returned to T.C. and met with our current athletes, reuniting with Coach Hughes.
He said despite their success, the brothers have always kept their feet on the ground and made good decisions. Noah enjoys the limelight but knows the importance of staying grounded.
Hughes said, “He’s very happy-go-lucky. Very, very cordial. He loves to play all the time, which suits him now because he can. I mean, he’s very prolific on social media. He enjoys himself.”
“They never let their athletic ability take them to a level of arrogance socially. They were arrogant on the track — I mean, you have to be. If you don’t believe you’re the best, it’s tough to be the best.”
“And their mother is very on top of him. She’s their manager and she very much keeps them remembering that it’s not forever.”
We want to ensure that finances are never a barrier to a student’s athletic career at our high school. Please check out the T.C. Williams Titans Cross Country/Track & Field Booster Club to learn how you can help.