Jumping into the postseason
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Photo by Darren Miller.
If fans of University of Iowa athletics haven't seen Jeffery Herron compete at a track and field meet, they have probably seen him in the stands as one of the Hawkeyes' No. 1 followers.
Herron is a UI high jump and long jump sensation; he is also a huge supporter of Hawkeye athletics.
"I like to watch the live events," says Herron, who is usually accompanied by roommate Troy Doris, an All-American triple jumper. "Before I came here, I watched Iowa compete on the Big Ten Network, and it was fascinating for me to see student athletes like that on TV; it's good entertainment. I try to get out to more events live. My roommates and I try to see every Iowa event that we can."
Standing 6-foot-4, Herron, a senior from Richmond, Texas, stands out in a crowd. Few of those around him realize they are sitting by one of the most gifted athletes at the school. Herron's coach would like to see more UI students take the lead of "Fan Herron."
"A lot of students in general, and athletes in particular, come to Iowa and they don't take advantage of all the opportunities that are available," UI head track and field coach Larry Wieczorek says. "It's pretty unique for somebody to do that, and realize that there are more things out there beyond his little world."
Just as Herron stands out in a crowd, he also stands out on a high jump apron. His successful leap of 7-feet-4 ¼ on April 7 at the Battle on the Bayou LSU Invitational leads the Big Ten Conference and is fourth nationally.
"I had some good practices in the weeks leading up to that," Herron says. "I missed my first jump at 6-9, and I was thinking I had to relax and let it happen. The bar kept going up, I had a few misses, but I had some clears; I cleared 7-3 on my first attempt, so I knew I could get the next height."
Herron's record-setting leap surpassed the school mark of 7-3 set by Bill Knoedel in 1975 and later matched by Bill Hansen in 1978.
"Now that I know I can get that height, it releases some stress and makes me less nervous," says Herron, who met Knoedel on April 21 at Musco Twilight XIII. "I was watching a video of a European high jumper and she said she is going to be a favorite at the Olympics. If she goes there and feels like a favorite, then she has already won half the battle; I will be favored to be an All-American."
Herron won the Musco high jump title at 6-10¾, then finished runner-up at the 103rd Annual Drake Relays on April 27, clearing 7-0½.
Flashing his athletic versatility, Herron has also showed promise in the long jump. He was second to Doris in that event at Musco XIII (23-1¼), and established the team's top effort of the season at 24-5 in Arkansas on March 31. His career best is 24-9 set at Musco XI in 2010.
Herron attended Fort Bend Austin (Texas) High School, where he played football and participated in track and field. His height and vertical leap made him an effective wide receiver, but most of his football playing time came at the junior varsity level. As a sophomore in high school, Herron jumped 6-4, and the march to 7-feet began. He cleared 6-6 in his first meet as a senior; then 6-8 to earn the No. 1 ranking in the state; then 6-10 to finish second in the state meet.
Herron attended the University of Texas (UTSA) at San Antonio, but he wasn't content. His roommate at UTSA was from Detroit and knew Christi Smith, the newly hired assistant at the UI. Herron moved north.
"That's how I first heard of Iowa," Herron says. "I didn't know where Iowa was on the map. When I finally came on my visit, I liked it and I came here."
Herron made an immediate impact on the Hawkeyes and within the Big Ten. Last May at the conference championships, he tied for fourth in the high jump and placed fifth in the long jump; the Hawkeyes won the team championship by 2½ points over Minnesota.
"We don't win the Big Ten Championships without him," Wieczorek says. "Over the years here, he has been remarkable in terms of his contribution to the team."
"It was a great feeling," Herron says. "We were talking about it all year in the locker room. The vibe was that we could win this thing if everyone came together and everyone performed on the day. It's performance on the day that matters."
The 2012 Big Ten Championships are May 11-13 in Madison, Wis., and Herron would like to repeat as a member of the championship team. He yearns for individual gold as well.
"I want to win Big Tens individually and as a team," Herron says. "I want to go to the national meet and then go to the Olympic Trials and at least put something competitive out there."
Herron is majoring in sports management and he hopes to land a job in a university athletics department, helping student athletes.
"I want to stay around sports because it's not your typical 8-to-5 job," Herron says. "You get to interact with people, so that's what interests me."
And more significant to Herron than any medal or trophy is a diploma.
"I'm going to have a degree from here and I know my family wanted that for me," Herron says. "They wanted me to go to college in general, but to go to a prestigious college like this and get a degree will help me in my future."
Herron is now dialed in on the most crucial segment of the season...Madison to Austin, Texas (NCAA West Preliminary Rounds), to Des Moines, Iowa (NCAA Championships).
"I'm not done with surprises," Herron says. "Iowa has provided me everything I could ask for in an athletic career. I placed in the Big Ten on a Big Ten championship team, all I have left to do now is win (an individual) Big Ten championship and become an All-American."