By Josh Sigler
GREENTOWN — As an assistant coach on last year’s Eastern boys track and field team, Austin Roark saw Grant Cole take his first cracks at the long jump midway through his junior season.
Neither could’ve predicted the meteoric rise Cole has made in the event.
After clearing 23 feet, 9 inches in the long jump at the Hoosier State Relays indoor meet this preseason, Cole recently inked a letter of intent to continue his track career at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
“I didn’t expect him to be a great long jumper in under two seasons,” said Roark, who replaced the retiring Paul Nicholson as head coach this season. “When I saw him last year I could tell that he’d picked up speed. Seeing him in basketball made me know he was a leaper and that we had something there. His first jump in a meet was 20-8 with no steps. He was raw, and I knew he would be good, but not almost 24-feet good.”
The whirlwind that has been the last 12 months was just as surprising to Cole.
“It was a really quick journey for me because I just started and, honestly, it just happened,” he said. “It was really quick. Austin did a good job of guiding me the right way. I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am without him. I would’ve never thought I’d be going to college to long jump. Last year, with my times and marks, I wouldn’t have thought I’d make it anywhere more than an [NCAA] Division III school to run. Since I’ve done well enough in the long jump, it’s opened up a lot of great opportunities for me.”
With less than a full season of experience under his belt, Cole finished third in the long jump in last season’s sectional meet. He backed that up a third place showing in the regional with a leap of 22-2.5, and went on to place 15th in the state finals, clearing 21-7.5.
He’s battled a nagging leg injury through much of this season, but still managed to win the 300 hurdles (:41.37), 110 hurdles (:15.22) and long jump (22-3) in last week’s Mid-Indiana Conference meet, leading the Comets to their fourth straight league crown.
Cole is the top seed in the 110 hurdles, 300 hurdles long jump in tonight’s Kokomo Sectional. The Comets enter tonight seeking their first sectional title since 1998.
As far as Cole’s progression, Roark took little credit, saying Cole’s senior teammates and past coaches had more to do with his quick rise.
“He put in all the work so I give him credit,” Roark said of Cole. “The seniors this year have been great. Grant and Josiah Marx, Josh Mentis, Damon Byers and Adam Schaaf have really stepped up. Schaaf is like a distance coach in himself, and the other guys have really stepped up and shown up to supplement some of the younger guys to put us in sectional championship contention. I’ve said that coach Nicholson left me with a good team, and he did that. That’s what he wanted to do, and obviously I’m appreciative of that.”