While making the rounds at prestigious high school track and field meets two years ago, rivals of Cliff Rovelto approached the Kansas State coach all but conceding their chances of signing one of the nation's premier high jumpers.
Erik Kynard, the eventual two-time state champion at Rogers, possessed the physical attributes and the aggressive sprinting approach of a prototypical Kansas State jumper, so the consensus opinion was, that's where he would end up.
Sure enough, a year into his career with the Wildcats, Kynard is demonstrating many of the same qualities of the program's long line of prominent jumpers. Above all else, he has been successful.
Though in his mind it ended disappointingly, Kynard submitted an excellent rookie year, finishing the spring outdoor season as an NCAA All-American by finishing sixth at the national tournament.
"I thought he handled the transition from high school about as well as any high jumper we've ever had," Rovelto said.
That's a strong statement. Since 1995, six KSU high jumpers - excluding Kynard - have combined to claim 12 All-America honors in the outdoor season. Kyle Lancaster (2003-07) and Scott Sellers (2006-09) earned the distinction four times, with Sellers winning two NCAA titles. With three years remaining in Manhattan, Kynard is angling toward being as good as or better than anyone who has come through the program before him.
"I'd be beyond shocked if he ended his career and hadn't won multiple NCAA championships," Rovelto said. "I don't say that to put pressure on him, but I say it as a statement of fact."
Tomorrow morning Kynard will compete at the 19-and-under Junior Nationals in Des Moines and attempt to make the U.S. world team for the third straight year. He finished runner-up in the event the past two years, and with one last opportunity, he is again a serious title contender.
Should he finish first or second, Kynard will qualify for the world championships July 19-25 in Moncton, Canada. Kynard was second at last summer's Pan America championships - which is arguably his single greatest athletic achievement - losing only to Canada's Derek Drouin, this year's NCAA champion for Indiana University.
Kynard said he was "very disappointed" in taking sixth at the NCAA Championships, which were held this month at the University of Oregon. Ranked third entering the competition, Kynard and Rovelto believed the 6-foot-4 Kynard was capable of winning the meet. It was not a stellar day though for the freshman, as he posted a top jump of 2.17 meters, or 7-01.5 feet. For the sake of comparison, Kynard holds the Ohio Division I record of 7-2.75. Finishing one spot ahead of Kynard in fifth place, was Mississippi freshman Ricky Robertson, the only high school senior in 2009 ranked above Kynard.
"I was very disappointed, but my coach said, you're losing to the same good guys," Kynard said. "I have to move up and learn what to expect and just show up. Track and field is an up and down sport. I have to be realistic. Usain Bolt doesn't go out and break the world record every time he runs."
Even without a better NCAA finish, Kynard believes he had a strong inaugural season. He was runner-up at the Big 12 meet and finished 11th at the indoor nationals in March. Academically, he achieved a 3.0 grade point average in the first semester. He'll return to Toledo for two weeks beginning July 1, his longest visit back home since he left for college.
"I miss home," he said. "There's no place like home."
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