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Tuesday, December 07, 2021
<p>Hugh Graham Jr. (left) hugs Arman Hall after winning the 4x400m relay during the NCAA outdoor championships in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday.</p>

Hugh Graham Jr. (left) hugs Arman Hall after winning the 4x400m relay during the NCAA outdoor championships in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday.

Against all odds, the Gators are outdoor champions for the second consecutive season. 

The Florida men’s track and field team rallied Saturday to defend its NCAA outdoor title, this time sharing it with Texas A&M.

“No one gave us a chance,” coach Mike Holloway said. “I watched the replays of ESPN this weekend and they didn’t even mention the Gators. I told the guys to just keep fighting, be who we are and do what we do.”

UF was in 11th place heading into the last day of competition.

After disappointing results through the first three days of competition, the odds of Florida defending its title dwindled.

The first scored event on Saturday was the men’s triple jump. Defending NCAA champion Omar Craddock made the cut to advance to the final jumps, while sophomore Marquis Dendy fell short.

Having two individual athletes and two relay squads still eligible for points, the Gators went to work — starting with Craddock.

The senior posted a personal best in the triple jump and secured 10 points for Florida, defending his individual title.

The next event for Florida was the men’s 4x100m relay. In the final leg of the 4x1, sophomore Dedric Dukes edged out Alabama’s Dushane Farrier by one-hundredth of a second, winning the event for Florida in a season-best 38.53 seconds.

“I knew the title was on the line, so I just ran my hardest and we came out on top,” Hugh Graham Jr. said.

“All the handoffs were smooth, and down the backstretch, I knew Dedric was one of the best guys out there and he would get it done for us.”

The penultimate event on Saturday for the Gator men was the 110m hurdles. With a time of 13.32 seconds, junior Eddie Lovett earned eight crucial points in a runner-up finish to Texas A&M’s Wayne Davis II.

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Florida found itself down by nine points to No. 1 ranked Texas A&M with one event remaining – the men’s 4x400m relay.

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The only way the Gators would win a title would be if they won the 4x4 and the Aggies finished last in the event.

The cards were stacked against Florida, but the improbable happened.

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During the first baton exchange, Texas A&M freshman Aldrich Bailey Jr. bobbled and dropped it during the handoff from senior Ricky Babineaux – all but ensuring a last-place finish for the Aggies.

“When I heard A&M dropped the stick, I was saying to myself, ‘Oh God, we got a good chance to win it,’” Graham said.

After two strong legs from Graham and Dukes, freshman anchor Arman Hall pulled away in the final lap to secure Florida’s victory in the 4x4, as well as a share of the national title.

“It felt great to bring it home for the win,” Hall said. “I knew Najee (Glass), Hugh and Dedric were going to put me out there in front, and all I would have to do is hold the lead and extend it if I had to.”

Florida now has won five national championships – two outdoors and three indoors – in four years.

It was a dramatic title run for the Gators, whose bread-and-butter event is the men’s 4x400m relay.

“I’ve been asked for a few years now, ‘Why do you recruit so many quarter-milers?’” Holloway said. “People know why now.”

Editor’s note: This story was edited and re-published for the Welcome Back Edition of the Alligator on August 21.

Hugh Graham Jr. (left) hugs Arman Hall after winning the 4x400m relay during the NCAA outdoor championships in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday.

Florida's Hugh Graham Jr., left, hugs Antwan Wright as teammate Dedric Dukes looks on after winning the 4x400-meter race during the NCAA outdoor track and field championships in Eugene, Ore., Saturday, June 8, 2013. Florida tied with Texas A&M for the men's championship.

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