As she waited to run her leg of the 4×400 meter relay at the American Athletic Conference Indoor Championships, Jazmyne Williams had plenty of reasons to be nervous.
Williams, 18, is a freshman walk-on and one of the youngest athletes on Temple’s track & field team. She had a nagging hip injury that limited her performance during the indoor season. And to top things off, she was anchoring the last leg of the relay.
The Owls finished with a season-best time of three minutes, 49.49 seconds to place second in their heat and ninth overall.
“Typically anchor is the fastest so I was getting down on myself,” Williams said. “But most people perform better under pressure, and I guess I’m one of those people.”
Coach Elvis Forde described Williams’ path to Temple as “unique.”
Williams started running track during her freshman year at Oakton High School in Fairfax County, Virginia. In only her third season, she won state, region and district championships as a junior.
She applied to Temple at the recommendation of Oakton assistant coach Alisa Byers and was accepted on an academic scholarship.
During her senior season at the Virginia state championships, Williams noticed Forde standing on the edge of the track scouting for future recruits.
Williams, who was initially unsure about competing in college, then realized she wanted to keep running. Byers walked over and struck up a conversation with Forde.
“She had the grades, she was already accepted into the school, so she was pretty low risk for a college coach,” Byers said.
“Coach [Forde] was nice enough to listen to what I had to say,” she added.
Forde said the “talent pool” with Williams was there, but it was a matter of figuring out how far she “wanted to go.”
Forde took a chance on Williams, which paid off deep into the season at the championships. Williams said the transition from high school to college athletics was not always smooth.
“Most of my friends aren’t athletes,” Williams said. “Some days I’ll think, ‘I don’t want to do this, I’d rather be sleeping,’ but I know that those are the days that matter the most.”
“She had never probably trained this much in her life,” Forde said.
Byers said she has kept in contact with Williams throughout the season, helping her adjust to the demands of college athletics. Byers, who is a former Drexel University graduate student, believes that Williams is in the right environment to grow as an athlete.
Now finished with the indoor season, Forde expects improvement from Williams as the team transitions to outdoor competition.
Because of the length of her stride, Williams sometimes got boxed-in while running on the indoor tracks, Forde said. Most indoor tracks are only 200 meters long, with smaller lanes. The transition to the 400-meter outdoor tracks should give her more room and improve her times, Forde said.
“It’s more strategic indoors,” Forde said. “The best runner doesn’t always win. I think her outdoor season is going to be much better than her indoor.”
The Owls traveled to the University of Mississippi this weekend for their first outdoor meet of the season. Williams finished 19th out of 42 participants in the 400 with a time of 58 seconds, which was the fourth-best time of any freshman at the meet and a personal best.
“She wants to get better,” Forde said. “As a coach, the challenge is up to you then to prepare them to compete at this level.”
“She’s a special one,” Byers said.
Ben Blaustein can be reached at email@example.com.