Wichita State junior Tyler Simmons remembers when he was "a skinny, skinny guy" coming out of Beloit High School and few Division I track and field programs were recruiting him.
Now Simmons has upgraded his body type to "pretty skinny". His added bulk since joining the Shockers four years ago has helped him become the Missouri Valley Conference's best long jumper, but it's not the muscle that's helping Simmons the most.
At 6-foot-4, Simmons has long legs, and he's figured out how to use them.
"The biggest thing that's helped me so far is just getting faster," said Simmons, who won the long jump at the K.T. Woodman Classic at Cessna Stadium on Saturday with a jump of 24 feet, 7 3/4 inches. "The weight training and the training that they have us doing here has made me a lot faster. That's the biggest thing I can say that took me to a 23-, 24-foot jumper to the twenty-fives."
Simmons' shoulders took a beating when he played football at Beloit and though shoulders aren't crucial in long jumping, the wear and tear kept him from blossoming with the Shockers in his first two seasons.
He finally decided to correct the problem, which was discovered to be a torn labrum, with surgery last year, but it kept him from competing and he was forced to redshirt.
"Redshirting was brutal," Simmons said. "I had shoulder surgery and that was a brutal rehab, so I was really behind schedule. I came back faster than I was supposed to but I still had to start from scratch, not being able to work out for three or four months."
The missed time made Simmons' 2009-10 indoor season even more surprising. Two years after finishing sixth in the Valley outdoor championships, he won the indoor long jump with a personal-best and school-record 25-6 1/4 inches. Simmons, who does jumps and sprints, was a long jump finalist at the NCAA championships and earned All-America honors.
"Jared Foley, my roommate, he's a coach here, we kind of talked about jumping 25 feet," Simmons said. "That would be my goal this year, and that's what we were working toward. I started eating right and doing everything I needed to do to jump 25 feet. I knew I could do it, but I didn't expect indoors to go the way it did."
Because of the indoor season, Simmons will enter most of the outdoor events as the favorite, and he seems to recognize and embrace that.
On his first jump in Saturday's finals, Simmons had his best distance of the day but fouled. He asked coaches and teammates what went wrong and fixed it, making his second-best jump of the day on his next attempt. Simmons may be an All-American, but he's not yet satisfied.
"I'm just going to have to keep working hard, and if I'm not focused I'm not going to make it," Simmons said. "I just have to stay focused and try to accomplish the same goals."
Since he accomplished his goals from last season, the benchmarks for this season have changed. Simmons is taking his time, though. He peaked at the end of the indoor season and is looking to do the same outdoors. Saturday's win was an early step in a long process that concludes with the NCAA championships in June.
"There's still the outdoor school record (26-2 1/2 set by Don Duvall in 1980) that I'm trying to get," Simmons said. "There's a whole different way to get to nationals outdoors. I qualified for regionals, so now I have to focus on getting back to nationals."