Yogi Berra once said, “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Braxton Drummond’s childhood dream was to play college football. But when it appeared that opportunity might not materialize, he came to a fork in the road during his senior year at Dorman High School.
It seems he chose the right direction.
Now a senior at Charleston Southern, Drummond is currently the nation’s top collegiate long jumper.
With his leap of 26 feet, 7 inches (8.10 meters) in a meet at the University of Miami recently, Drummond not only set a Big South Conference record, he also automatically qualified for the NCAA regional championships and the U.S. Olympic trials in July. His distance is .15 meters ahead of the second-best college long jump this season.
“I loved football, it was my first love really,” Drummond said. “Playing at Dorman, football is a big deal and I kind of thought I could go be a defensive back or receiver in college. I had run track as a sophomore but didn’t stick with it. I played some basketball, too, but didn’t play my senior year. I had some track coaches convince me to come back out for track as a senior, and I figured I had nothing to lose since it might help me in football. I didn’t expect much really, but as it turned out, I was pretty good.”
By May 2011, Drummond was one of the top long jumpers in the state and won an individual gold medal at the Class AAAA state championship meet with a school-record jump of 23 feet.
“He was a really athletic kid, and we all felt he could make an impact on our team,” said Dorman track coach Jeff Buys, who led the team to the AAAA title that season. “Being a senior, we weren’t sure how serious he might take it all, but he really did go to work at being competitive. He had a good drive about him and it really took off for him. He was a good sprinter, but I think he found his niche with jumping.”
Being late to the track game, Drummond faced obstacles when it came to recruiting. Buys says he made calls to Clemson, South Carolina and Charleston Southern. Tim Langford, who was the CSU men’s track coach at the time, was the only coach to return Buys’ call.
“I still was hoping that I could play football, but I think I made the right decision in coming here and running track,” Drummond said.
Drummond cleared 24 feet as a freshman and topped 25 feet as a sophomore. He finished seventh in the NCAA national championships in 2014, earning first-team All-American honors. He placed fifth in the 2015 Indoor championships, again earning All-American honors. He has twice broken his own school record in the long jump and has dominated the Big South in both outdoor and indoor track over the last few years. His ability to continue the progress and improvement gives him a legitimate shot at competing for a national title in June.
First, Drummond must compete in the NCAA regionals in May at the University of North Florida. He needs a top-12 finish at that meet to advance to the NCAA championships in June.
“I definitely have a lot left in me,” Drummond said. “My goal is to be the national champion, but there is a lot of work left in front of me. The thing about track is you have to perform on the day of the big meet. If you don’t bring your best, you can end up short. I am focused on being at my best and performing at my best each and every meet.”
CSU coach Roosevelt Lofton says Drummond is a potential national champion but also feels his best jumping is in his future.
“When you look at it, he is still a baby when it comes to jumping,” Lofton said. “He really is just scratching the surface. He has really bought into the things that we’re emphasizing and he continues to improve. Each year he has gotten better and jumped farther, and I think he can still go more.”
In terms of competing for a spot on the 2016 Olympic team, Drummond is facing far better competition than he is on the collegiate level. Former college jumpers now competing on the professional circuit are jumping in the 8.50-meter range. To put Drummond’s efforts into perspective so far, the gold medal long jump in the 2012 London Olympics was 8.31 meters by Great Britain’s Greg Rutherford. Jeff Henderson is considered the top jumper in the U.S. with a personal best of 8.54 meters (28 feet).
Lofton says Drummond’s first challenge is to reach the Olympic standard jump of 8.15 meters.
“If he jumps 8.15 before the trials and he winds up in the top three at the trials, he makes the Olympic team,” Lofton said. “It’s all about putting up the number on that day. He actually jumped 8.15 at Miami but fouled, so he can do it. There is a lot of work to be done yet, especially with the competitive level of the jumpers out there.
“Does he have a shot? Definitely, but it all boils down to who brings their ‘A’ game at the trials. Braxton is very focused now. He sees what it takes and he is willing to put in the work to be the best he can be.”
The next two months are sure to be interesting for Drummond, who admits he never saw this potential five years ago.
“It has been a lot of hard work, but that makes it more satisfying,” said Drummond, who also competes in the 100- and 200-meter sprints, and runs a leg on the 400-meter relay team. “To work hard and see results makes me push even harder. I’m not done yet.”