McNeese making big jumps at ASU

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After competing at the track and field state championships for Sealy, one former Tiger jumper is looking to further improve on his skills in his second year out west.

Tyrek McNeese was recruited to the Grand Canyon State after a solid showing in a Sealy uniform and competed in both the long and triple jump events as well as dabbling in the 4x100-meter relay a couple of times as a freshman for the Arizona State Sun Devils, although his focus will be more specific here in year two.

“I’m strictly triple jumping this year. I long jumped last year too but we got a brand-new jumping coach this year and he’s got me focused just on triple jump,” McNeese said in a phone interview. “We’ve been working more on technique. We’ve got the getting-in-shape part out of the way so now we’re doing event-specific training.”

That new coach was one of the many McNeese made sure to give credit for aiding him on his journey thus far.

“Coach (John) Ellis has been a great guy he’s been breaking it down and he’s been having one-on-one meetings with me telling me what I need to do right,” McNeese said.

Plenty of the lessons that set him up for success to begin with came from the Tigers’ track coach, Ray Dabney, who has plenty of fond memories of McNeese.

“When Tyrek was a freshman, he was real close to not jumping,” Dabney said. “(Justin) Eckhardt was the big dude and McNeese was going to go straight football and I told him, ‘Tyrek you gotta hang with it because Eckhardt is probably going to get heavy and when you get heavy that’s not good for your triple jump or long jump unless you can carry that.’ But I just kept telling him to stick with it.”

As it would turn out, Eckhardt did put on weight which helped him on the baseball field where he now pitches for the Texas Longhorns, and McNeese only continued to improve his distances.

“I don’t know if it was just him seeing his progression because he went from like 43 to 47 to 49 feet, bang-bang-bang, he blew up,” Dabney added. “But he works really hard, he was never one of those kids where I had to watch him; I would just tell him to go do the Vertimax, and he’d go and do the Vertimax. I’d tell him to go do squat jumps or gauntlet or Tiger-makers or whatever, and he would go do them and then come out to the pit and be ready to jump.”

That work ethic got him to the state championships his final two years which also came with some record-shattering performances.

Despite earning a silver medal in the triple jump as a junior, the three-inch deficit was what pushed him to get back there as a senior, in three other events as well.

After setting the school record for long and triple jump, he became the first Tiger to qualify for state in four different disciplines, adding the 4x100- and 4x200-meter relays on top of the jumping events.

He earned silver in the long jump and had to pause his triple jump attempts to run a personal record in the 4x100-meter relay and returned to take the top spot in the triple jump pit before competing in the 4x200-meter relay where the team took sixth overall.

The hunger that drove him then still burns within him today and his sights are now set on even more improvement.

“First off, scoring at the Pac-12 meet (is a big goal), trying for sure to get in the top three at the conference championships in outdoors and make it to regionals and hopefully make it to nationals, that’s always the goal,” McNeese said. “Our goal this year is to get the whole team to nationals, so we’ll be chasing a ring.”

On a more personal level, he’s got a specific length in mind he’s trying to reach now that he can focus solely on one event.

“Definitely going over 51 feet and most importantly staying healthy, that’s the biggest thing, and finishing with good grades,” McNeese added.

Dabney added he was excited to see him specializing although he feels as though McNeese could still do other things as well.

“I love it and I still think he can be a long jumper too but the thing about long jump; I wanted to win the state meet so I was like ‘Tyrek, if we’ve got a chance to win the state meet, you’ve gotta do long jump,’” Dabney recounted. “He told me, ‘I’m not a long jumper,’ and I told him ‘If I’m coaching you, you’re a long jumper and a triple jumper,’ and so at Bellville when he went 23, 24 feet or whatever it was, he was like ‘I like the long jump.’”

All of those lessons are still with him today, as well as a couple of others McNeese picked up on from growing up in Sealy.

“I really looked up to Kris Brown,” McNeese said of the Sealy graduate who went on to win national championships for the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders and recently competed in The Spring League hoping for a shot at professional football. “Basically, we grew up in the same part of town on the east side of Sealy and throughout my childhood I looked up to him and saw what he could do. He graduated and got his degree but he played football and I took another route but I’m basically following his footsteps.”

Of course, he never forgets where he first made his footsteps and makes sure everyone else around him knows, too.

“I definitely gotta represent. If you come out here and ask everyone where I’m from, they’ll tell you,” McNeese said. “I represent Sealy all the time everywhere I’m at, so they know.”

With support from Sealy and Tempe behind him, Dabney feels as though the sky is the limit for McNeese.

“He’s gotta get back into his mojo and prove to himself that he’s a jumper and that’s what God called him to do because I think he can be an Olympic jumper,” Dabney said. “He has the body build, he’s got the hips, he’s got the speed; I just think that he would be extremely good.

“What kid doesn’t dream to specialize to do what you did in high school and see the world and travel,” Dabney continued. “When I got to Prairie View A&M, I had never left Texas but now I’m going to Mississippi, Iowa, all these different relays you see and stay in places you’ve never seen before. I love the kid, I wish him well. I just want him to get his groove back.”

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