Just last week, Emporia junior long jumper Jerel Morrow took flight and people started to wonder if he was ever going to come down. For what seemed like minutes, Morrow soared through the air during a Class 5A regional track and field meet at Emporia State University. He just kept going and going and going. And when he landed, the guys that keep track of distance had to stretch out their tape measure like never before.
When one of them announced that Morrow had just jumped 25 feet, 8½ inches, those near the long-jump pit probably thought they had misunderstood.
Consider that 25-8 ½ is two and a half inches better than anybody in high school has ever jumped in Kansas. Consider that it ties the nation’s best long jump for 2012, shared by Jarrion Lawson of Liberty-Eylau High in Texarkana, Texas.
Consider, finally, that Morrow, a junior, started the season still recuperating from a broken left ankle — his plant ankle — and that it took him several weeks to start to feel comfortable as a long jumper again.
“I wasn’t really thinking about anything during that jump except that I had to get my legs out and make a good landing,’’ said Morrow, competing this weekend in the state track and field championships at Cessna Stadium. “But it was unusual because I wasn’t used to being up in the air that long.’’
Morrow finished fourth in the 5A long jump as a freshman and won the event last year with a jump of 21-10 ¼.
But he’s been over 24 feet a few other times, said Emporia jump coach Phil Thornton.
“We knew Jerel was very good,’’ Thornton said. “But over 25 feet is something we didn’t expect.’’
The wind was blowing strongly that day and it no doubt gave Morrow a boost. But the wind wasn’t just blowing in Emporia and only one other long jumper in the state — Galena’s Tylor Albright (24-1) — did better than 22-9 ½.
“You can say Jerel’s jump was wind-assisted,’’ Thornton said. “But he also hit that jump at his top speed. He hit the take-off that he wanted and he had as much reach on the finish as he could get. So it was a good jump. It wasn’t all luck.’’
Morrow will follow up that record-setting jump — the previous state record of 25-6 was set by Leavenworth’s Cleavon Dillon in 2001 — early this morning, at 8 a.m. in the 5A long jump final. That’s why he was back in his hotel room early Friday night after competing Friday in the high jump and triple jump.
Morrow and his coaches knew weeks ago that the triple jump and high jump would be run at the same time in the state meet and adjusted accordingly, even giving Morrow a work-out plan to try and prepare. He would high jump at one end of the practice field, then run over to the triple jump pit after each leap. And vice versa, which is just what he did again Friday as officials in both areas gave him some extra time.
“At least I kept warm,’’ said Morrow, who said he tried to keep from feeling rushed and finished fourth in the triple jump (46-1) and fifth in the high jump (6-4). “I would have liked to have done a little better than I did. But I competed. The hardest part was sprinting back and forth between the events.’’
Morrow is a standout defensive back for Emporia’s football team, good enough that he’s entertaining some recruiting offers from a few Big 12 schools. He suffered the broken ankle during football season and missed the final four games.
He’d like to play football and run track in college, but he’s also not allowing him to think too much about the future - or the past.
“What happened last week was last week,’’ Morrow said of his record-setting long jump. “Now I need to go out and compete (today) and try to do better. The (25-8 ½) jump happened last week just to get me to this state meet. It was a good jump, but I’m still just in high school and I still need to get better. It’s good for now but I need to improve.’’
That won’t be easy, considering 25-8 ½ is, well, 25-8 ½. No long jumper in the state’s history has ever done better. Only a few nationally have jumped that far.
“He’s got to get here at the crack of dawn (Saturday) morning and he’s got to get hot, get warm,’’ Thornton said. “That’s a hard thing to do that early in the day, but it’s OK — everybody has to do it. And Jerel knows it’s not all about the mark. It’s also about places and points for the team.
“But everybody will be expecting something big from him today. And I know he’ll be competing as hard as he can.’’