An ongoing and friendly family feud fueled Tyris Jefferson to be the best, not only in the state of Texas, but in his own household.
Even though he missed his father’s best marks as a prep by one inch in both the high jump and long jump, Jefferson justified his claim by winning state in the largest classification.
The Kansas State signee soared to the top of his class in not just the long jump, but off the track, leaping to the forefront of area tracksters as the Most Valuable Performer on the Tyler Morning Telegraph’s All-East Texas boys track and field team.
“It feels pretty good,” Jefferson said of the accolade after posing for a picture in the long jump pit on a rare day in May featuring a breeze and shade. “But once you check those stats and see there’s someone who can still come out the blue, it keeps you hungry.”
The Lee senior becomes the third Red Raider in the last four years to be named MVP, formerly known as Trackster of the Year. Keyunta Hayes, now at UT San Antonio, captured the award in consecutive seasons in 2009 and 2011.
Jefferson also made history by becoming the first three-time superlative winner. He made the team all four years, winning Underclassmen of the Year (given to the top freshman or sophomore) twice. Longview’s Eric Hawkins, a first-team sprinter headed to a perennial power at the University of Arkansas, copped MVP honors a year ago.
A former Arkansas Razorback, Jefferson’s father Tyrus Jefferson, motivated his son to succeed. The eldest Jefferson finished sixth in the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials and ascended to No. 10 in the world rankings in 1986, including fourth in the country behind arguably the greatest jumper of all-time in Carl Lewis and also world-record holder Mike Conley,
“I wanted to get him,” Jefferson said. “But I got the state title, so I got him.
“Even though he’s also my coach and father, he’s also my competitor. I tried to beat that. He definitely kept me hungry and it pushed me a lot.”
For the first three years, regionals marked Jefferson’s stopping point. He decided to increase his chances this year, setting a goal to reach state in five events.
In the meantime, another member of the family, Tyris’ brother Andre Jefferson, a junior at John Tyler, also made the first team as a jumper. Andre placed third at regionals in Class 4A to just miss qualifying for state.
At the District 11-5A meet, Jefferson nearly pulled off the top feat in his sport of five medals by winning gold in the high jump, triple jump and 400, tying for first in the long jump but losing on a tie-breaker, and taking third in the 200.
Two weeks later, the five-event regional qualifier extended his season to state in the long jump with a gold medal. He also placed fourth in both the long jump and triple jump. In four years, Jefferson placed in the top eight in nine regional events.
Already established as one of Texas’ top talents, Jefferson entered his last jump out of medal contention. He uncorked a memorable leap of 23 feet, 6¼ inches on his final attempt, sowing up the long-coveted gold medal.
“I had to win it,” Jefferson said. “It was my last jump. I just wanted to leave it on the pit.”
At the end of the high school season, Jefferson ranked seventh in the state and 21st nationally in the high jump at 6-10, 18th in Texas in the 400 (48.29) and fourth in the state and 31st nationally with his best legal mark in the long jump from the state event. Jefferson cleared a wind-aided 24-2 earlier in the year — the fourth-best in America — and a wind-assisted 46-11 in the triple jump. He also clocked a time of 21.7 in the 200.
A track-specialist who competes year-round, Jefferson plans to rest a little before moving north to join the Big 12 college. After Saturday’s graduation, he’s set his sights on winning a national title with the East Texas track club during summer competition in the USA track and field circuit.
“I learned a lot during high school,” said Jefferson, who is leaning toward studying kinesiology in college. “Now I’m about to start a new life. Everything really came together and I ended with a good season. I’m glad I finished out my senior year with a bang.
“Now I’m going to see if I can be a national champ in the summer.”
ALL-EAST TEXAS TRACK & FIELD TEAM
MOST VALUABLE PERFORMER
Tyris Jefferson, Sr., Robert E. Lee
Class 5A State Champion — Long Jump (23-6¼)
Regional Qualifier in five events (LJ, HJ, TJ, 200, 400)
*Kansas State signee
CO-UNDERCLASSMEN OF THE YEAR
Gabe Meruelo, Fr., Henderson
3A Regional Bronze-medalist — Pole Vault (14-0)
Kade Clayton, So., Grace Community
TAPPS State Champion — 110 (14.69) and 300 (38.37)
Daven Murphee, Jr., Harmony
2A State Champion — Pole Vault (16-7)
Kendall Sanders, Sr., Athens
3A State Qualifier — Long Jump (fourth, 23-1)
Andre Jefferson, Jr., John Tyler
4A Regional Qualifier — Long Jump (third, 22-6) and Triple Jump (12th, 42-3)
Shelton Tolliver, Sr., Kilgore
4A Regional Qualifier — Triple Jump (fourth, 44-10) and Long Jump
Austin Cook, Jr., Overton
1A State Champion — Discus (178-3), Silver-medalist — Shot Put (55-9½)
Deontre Wilson, Sr., Longview
5A State Qualifier — Discus (8th, 149-5)
Nick Young, Sr., Longview
5A State Bronze-medalist — 300 (37.74)
Colton Chadbourne, Jr., Winona
2A State Qualifier — 300 (4th, 39.64) and 110 (9th, 15.36)
Hunter Fair, Jr., Hawkins
1A State Champion — 3200 (9:55.84), Bronze-medalist — 1600 (4:33.67)
Troy Hayden, Jr., Whitehouse
4A State Qualifier — 3200 (6th, 9:27.28), 1600 (6th, 4:21.26)
Eric Hawkins, Sr., Longview
5A State Silver-medalist — 200 (20.80)
Chris Harris, Sr., Overton
1A State Qualifier — 100 (4th, 11.10), 400 (5th, 49.55)
Derrick McDuff, Sr., Rusk
3A State Bronze-medalist — 400 (47.68)
Demonte Holloway, Sr., John Tyler
4A Region qualifier — 300s (6th, 40.84) and 110s