Clayton Brown stared anxiously ahead of him at the maroon track of Gilliam Indoor Stadium as teammate KeAndre Bates clapped optimistically from the side.
Alabama freshman Christian Edwards watched nearby with his hands on his hips. Edwards had taken the lead in the men’s triple jump after his last attempt, and the SEC title was his to lose.
Brown took a deep breath, stood up straight with his right arm stretched out, tilted his head down and took off.
Vigorously pumping his arms, back and forth, up and down, Brown gained speed. His strides lengthened, and he took one, two, three long leaps before lunging as far as his body would take him across the plane and into the rectangular sand pit.
When he jumped up from the pit, he was as an SEC champion.
Brown’s win in the men’s triple jump was one of three titles collected by Florida’s men’s and women’s track and field teams on Feb. 24 and 25 at the 2018 SEC Indoor Championships in College Station, Texas.
Sophomore Grant Holloway (men’s 60-meter hurdles) and senior Lloydricia Cameron (women’s shot put) were the other two Gators who grabbed titles at the conference meet.
But for Brown, this win meant more than just a conference title.
He entered the SEC Championships just outside the national top 16 in the men’s triple jump, and he needed a mark over 16 meters to qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Knowing that his indoor season could be over in a matter of moments, the St. Andrew, Jamaica, native got into position for his final jump.
His silver chain swung violently around his neck as he ran as fast as he could and ended up with a jump of 16.08 meters for the win.
“The feeling to win is very special, because I didn’t come in expecting to win. All I came in to do was qualify for nationals,” Brown said in a release. “That last jump, I was thinking I couldn’t let Alabama beat me and that my team is going to need me at nationals. That was running through my head. I thought that would help me get the last push.”
And it did. The sophomore came from behind to snatch the title away from Edwards by six inches on his final attempt of the event.
More importantly for Brown, his jump tied him for the No. 14 spot on the national descending order list, which means his season hasn’t ended just yet.
He will join UF’s men back in College Station on March 9 and 10 as they attempt to garner their first indoor national title since 2012.
Despite Brown’s impressive finish, coach Mike Holloway mentioned after the meet that he felt his teams didn’t perform at their full potential and will need to get tougher heading into nationals.
“We’ve got to understand that people want to beat us because we’re Florida, and no one is going to lie down for us,” Holloway said in a release. “When we get back here in two weeks, if we want any chance of getting the (championship) trophy, we better wake up, dot our Is and cross our Ts.”
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Coach Mike Holloway and the Gators men's and women's track and field teams sit in third place at the SEC Championships after Day 2.