“He will be one of the best track athletes Robert E. Lee has ever had.”
That’s what Lee coach Dow Wynn III had to say when asked about Tyris Jefferson in 2009.
Jefferson, now a senior, is one more jump away from fulfilling Wynn’s expectations.
After earning gold at regionals in the long jump, Jefferson now competes at the UIL Class 5A state track and field championships. He is scheduled to jump at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at University of Texas at Austin’s Mike A. Myers Stadium.
Jefferson enters with the best qualifying jump (24-2). Of the nine regional qualifiers, Jefferson is the only athlete with a jump of 24-0 or more. The next best is Kyle Collins of DeSoto (23-9 ½).
Jefferson is attempting to be the first REL athlete since Tyler Fleet (discus) in 2007 to win a state gold medal. In recent years, Nick McCloud captured bronze in the 110-meter high hurdles in 2008 with Keyunta Hayes also third in the 110 hurdles in 2009.
“I’ve always watched the state meet and wished I was out there competing and now I finally am out there,” said Jefferson, a Kansas State signee. “McCloud passing the torch to Keyunta (Hayes) and then him passing it to me, and both of them going to state, I was just like, I have to go.
“It will be the greatest feeling ever.”
Lee boys track coach Elgin Johnson said no one deserves to be on this stage at state more than Jefferson.
“To see a kid that does everything right and now have success, that is the reason you do this job,” Johnson said. “You always want to win, but those things come along with doing the right thing.”
The journey to possible state glory has taken much longer than Jefferson expected.
In the spring of 2009, then-freshman Jefferson won the District 11-5A meet in long jump with a leap of 22-8 ½. The younger son of world class jumper Tyrus Jefferson — No. 10 in the world rankings for the long jump and second place for Arkansas at the 1988 NCAA Indoor Championships — he’d already competed in the National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships.
Now at Lee, it was only a matter of time before Jefferson did something even his father hadn’t accomplished, win a state medal.
At the Class 5A Region II meet that year, Jefferson jumped 21-1, considerably less than what he’d done at district, to finish eighth.
It was a letdown, but there was always next year right?
As a sophomore, Jefferson qualified for regionals in the long jump and triple jump. Despite going 1-2 in those events at district, his long jump of 23-4 ¼ left him fourth while he was third in the triple jump.
“To get out of this region, you basically have to (jump a personal record), or run the time of your life,” Jefferson said of his challenge.
A year later as a junior, Jefferson competed at regionals in the 200-meter dash and long jump. He finished fourth in the 200 and fourth in the long jump with a leap of 23-5.
It was going to have to be 2012 or bust.
“I was just like this is my senior year and I have to leave with a bang. I have to go and get it,” Jefferson said.
Things began inauspiciously with Jefferson topping out in the long jump at 22-11 at the Earl Campbell Relays. It was good enough for first place, but Jefferson knew he would have to go much further if he was to accomplish his goal of reaching state.
“It was a very rocky start for me (early in the season). I wasn’t jumping anywhere near where I am jumping now,” Jefferson said.
One thing Jefferson did not have to worry about was college with the senior signing a full scholarship for track and field at Kansas State.
But he needed a spark of confidence, and he got it in of all places, Austin.
Competing at the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays, Jefferson delivered a career best 24-3 ½ to grab first-place honors.
“At first I was like what am I doing? I am not going to make it out to state with 22-0 jumps, but once I landed (that one), it just put all of the confidence back in me and I was ready to go,” Jefferson said. “I surprised myself because on my run-ups I was scratching, but that one jump just set off the whole thing.”
At the district meet, Jefferson dominated, capturing multiple first-place medals, but this year was about state — and that meant getting out of 5A Region II.
Jefferson was entered in four events at regionals, but it quickly became two when he finished fourth in the high jump and triple jump. With his favorite event, long jump, the next day, it had come down to this.
Jefferson did not waste any time, posting the region’s best jump on his first attempt.
“We’d been there so many times and been so close, and even the day before he’d been close,” Johnson said. “When he put out that 24-0, I knew none of those (other) guys had ever jumped a 24. And he made two jumps of 24, and that was a key thing.”
Jefferson was finally going to the state meet and no one was happier than his father, Tyrus.
“It was incredible. We’d been trying for four years and been missing it by an inch and inch and a quarter,” Tyrus said. “I am just so proud of him.”
John Tyler junior Andre Jefferson finished third in the long jump at the Class 4A Region II meet to narrowly miss joining older brother Tyris at state.
“He missed it by three inches, but he has an extra year to go and try to win it all,” Jefferson said of Andre. “I definitely want to try and do the same thing (I did at regionals) at state. Get a good jump out there and put pressure on the rest of the competition.
“Just me not going all of those other years, to finally make it, it’s just a whole different level.”
RAIDER RAP: Jefferson plans to study kinesiology at Kansas State to become a coach … Tyrus competed against Carl Lewis and Arkansas teammate Mike Conley at the 1988 Olympic Trials with Jefferson finishing seventh.