By David Fong
TROY — Stephen Jones has long since forgiven — but he certainly hasn’t forgotten.
“I’m definitely not mad about it anymore,” said Jones, a senior distance runner on the Troy High School track and field team. “I mean, things happen in the heat of competition. But it’s definitely something I haven’t forgotten about. It was a frustrating moment, for sure.”
Last year during the 3,200-meter run of the Division I state track and field meet, Jones found himself toward the front of the pack going into the race’s last lap. About midway through that final lap, Jones was tripped up by one of his competitors and fell to the infield turf at Jesse Owens Stadium.
Although Jones was able to pick himself up and finish the race, he had lost about 15 seconds from the pace at which he had been running and ended up tumbling from a sure-fire spot in the top eight (which would have put him on the podium) to a 13th-place finish.
“I felt like I was definitely in a good position to finish in the top five,” he said. “I’m not mad at the guy who tripped me — I’m just mad that I lost that opportunity. You have to let bygones be bygones.”
It was a particularly bitter pill to swallow for Jones, who had dedicated that particular race to long-time Trojan cross country and distance coach Bob Campbell, who retired as an assistant coach following last year’s state meet.
“That was probably the hardest part,” Jones said. “I really wanted to run well for Coach Campbell. He had meant so much to my career through the years.”
The good news for Jones was he was just a junior last season and will get another shot at the state meet this Saturday as he once again competes in the 3,200 for the final time in his high school career.
So far, Jones’ senior year has helped him put many of the demons he accrued during last year’s state meet firmly in the rearview mirror. During cross country season, he qualified for the state meet for a third year in a row and was able to place in his final attempt, taking ninth overall.
This spring, he’s set numerous school records as he continued to pile up conference and district titles. He’s hoping he can cap off his high school career — Jones will run both cross country and track and field next year at Mississippi State University — with a stellar race at state.
He’ll face a loaded field that includes Watkins Memorial’s Andrew Jordan, the Division I state cross country champion this year and one of the top-ranked runners in the nation. Jordan will run for Iowa State University next year. He is the only runner in the field to break the 9-minute mark in the 3,200 this year.
“Some of the best competition in the nation is going to be there,” Jones said.
Jones said he is focused on running his race — he said breaking the 9-minute mark himself remains his ultimate goal for the season — and finishing out his career in style.
“I’m excited,” he said. “Hopefully the third time will be the charm. I’m definitely looking to redeem myself after what happened last year.”
Which would be pretty unforgettable.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong