Damarcus Simpson will have one last chance to end his collegiate career with a title Wednesday during the opening day of the men’s NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship meet at Hayward Field.
More accurately, he should get six chances, and the very thought of taking a full complement of attempts in the long jump for the first time in a year nearly brought Simpson to his feet earlier this week during a sit-down interview outside the Bowerman Building.
“Coach (Robert) Johnson has been holding me back this whole year,” Simpson said. “Now we’re going to go for it.”
The results could be spectacular.
The 24-year-old senior from Lafayette, La., with sprinter’s speed and two healthy knees after offseason surgery, is ready to be unleashed on the long jump runway after a spring spent participating in multiple events.
“He’s gonna get the championship,” predicted fellow Oregon jumper Tristan James. “He’s gonna get the trophy, the ring, the whole thing. It’s gonna be a show. It’s going to be exciting to watch.”
Simpson is the national leader this year with a wind-aided mark of 27 feet, 4 inches, set three weeks ago at Stanford, Calif., when he won his second straight Pac-12 title. He also set his personal best with a wind-legal 26-7¾ during one of his four attempts at the Pac-12 meet.
“He’s hard working and talented,” Johnson said. “When he’s out there, he’s special. He handles his business, he takes care of everything and it’s one of those things where the details matter for that guy.”
Simpson will be up against a field this week that includes defending national champion KeAndre Bates of Florida and Gator sophomore Grant Holloway, last year’s NCAA runner-up who has jumped a wind-aided 27-3¾ this season and who will also be attempting to defend his title in the 110 hurdles.
“Grant Holloway, I love that guy,” Simpson said. “He’s a competitor. He has a fun personality and I love being out there with him on the track.”
The only other person to jump 27 feet this season is Texas A&M senior Will Williams, who has a best of 27-1. But he will miss the NCAA meet because of an injury.
If anyone can relate to the agony Williams is feeling this week, it’s Simpson, who didn’t compete in the long jump last season at the NCAA meet after failing to qualify during the NCAA West Preliminaries.
Simpson was in his first season at Oregon after transferring from Chadron State in Nebraska where he won two NCAA Division II long jump titles and made the finals of the Olympic Trials in 2016.
But at the 2017 West Prelim meet, Simpson also competed in the 100 and ran a pair of eye-popping wind-aided times with a 9.94-second sprint in the first round and then 10.04 in the quarterfinals to qualify for nationals.
That speed affected him adversely in the long jump, as he fouled on each of his three attempts, unable to get his timing down.
“It weighed on me a lot, not because I didn’t make it, but because I didn’t attempt any of the jumps,” he said. “I was just too fast and I couldn’t control that speed.”
He’s been able to harness it this season, which has been significant for the 5-foot-7 Simpson, who takes advantage of his speed and power to overcome his lack of height.
“Damarcus can run a 9.90 in the 100,” James said. “A lot of collegiate athletes, a lot of professional long jumpers can’t say that. So that in itself is a huge component of why he jumps so far. We haven’t seen him come anywhere close to his potential.”
That potential was limited last season by a nagging injury in his left knee that required arthroscopic surgery over the summer following his third-place finish at the U.S. Outdoor Championships in June.
“Every time I ran, every time I jumped I would come back to the tent and my knee would swell like a balloon,” he described. “I would have to come back and they would have to drain the fluid out of my knee and I just kept the ball rolling.”
He missed the 2018 indoor season as he continued his rehab, but he’s been on a roll this spring, beginning with his standout performance at the Pac-12 meet and his NCAA qualifying performance in the long jump at the West Prelims, though he didn’t make it back to Eugene in the 100 this season, or in the 4x100 relay.
Of course, that means his focus and effort will be 100 percent on the long jump, just as he likes it.
“Long jump is what I’m great at,” Simpson said. “And it’s what I enjoy most.”