One hundred forty-four feet, ten inches. That was the length of my best-ever discus throw in high school. It was short of my goal of 148 feet (about 6 inches longer than the school record) but it was enough to send me to the New York State track and field championships.
One hundred forty-two feet, seven and one half inches. That was the distance of the best discus toss by a Syracuse thrower this last track and field season. The feat was accomplished by Adam Harris and it was good for fifth place at the Cornell Spring Invitational.
Two hundred twenty-three feet, eleven and 51/64 inches. That was the distance of the throw by Germany's Robert Harting over the summer. It was good for Olympic gold.
When people think of Syracuse University athletics, football and men's basketball immediately come to mind. The football program, while struggling, has produced players that have performed at the top of their profession. Names like Brown, Davis, Little, Monk, McPherson, McNabb, Harrison and Freeney have all graced the backs of Syracuse football jerseys.
Football's glory days might be in the past, but the men's basketball program is a perennial powerhouse under legendary coach Jim Boeheim. What the program might lack in name recognition, it makes up for in results, with more conference wins and NCAA tournament appearances that anyone else in the Big East.
Let's not forget the lacrosse, where the men's team has won fifteen national titles. Then there's field hockey, ranked #1 in the country. Hell, while we're at it, we can even talk about crew, where Syracuse Orange(men) rowing has been represented in thirteen-straight Olympics.
Syracuse athletics has seen its share of success in a wide array of sports, but has never really been a power in track and field. If you ask me, that's a shame.
I'll readily admit to having an unabashed weak spot for track and field. My first love might be basketball, but what I was really good at in my prime was the discus. Where some people see it as just throwing a three and a half pound hunk of wood and metal as far as I could, I saw a perfect construction of power, speed and precision. Where some people see the 60m high hurdles as people running and jumping really fast, Jarret Eaton undoubtedly sees the pinnacle of rhythm, timing and agility. Like any athletic pursuit, track and field can become poetry when executed to its highest degree.
So, that explains why I like track and field. But why not wish success on a more visible sport, like baseball or ice hockey. You might be surprised when I say: football.
It's not uncommon to hear that this or that wide receiver was also a track star in high school. It's not unheard of to find that this lineman or that linebacker put a shot back in the day. Adam Harris of the fifth place discus finish was a member of the Syracuse football team as well. For more notable examples, you only need to look to Washington D.C. and second overall pick Robert Griffin III, who was a national class hurdler before deciding to focus on quarterbacking (good call, RG3). Future Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden chose to attend UCLA over Florida in part because the Bruins were willing to let him compete in track and field as well. He only won the 1996 NCAA indoor shot put title.
Football and track go hand in hand. Speed, strength and agility are all key components for a successful football player, but are rarely of any use in and of themselves. They are tools used to build football players, but not things that make football players. The anecdote of the track star who couldn't catch a cold on a football field is an old one. Track and field allows football players to showcase their talents in an area where they can be seen purely for what those talents are. The deep threat can be appreciated for his speed, without being maligned for dropping a potential TD pass. The anchor of the offensive line can show off his strength without getting chewed out for giving up a sack.
This isn't to say that a successful track and field program is the final solution to sealing the deal with top-tier recruits. A guy like RG3 is going to go to Baylor regardless. And it's no coincidence that schools with top football programs (LSU, Florida, USC) also have top notch track teams as well. But what if there's a recruit stuck between Syracuse and, say, Penn State? Having a successful track program might help sway that player toward the Orange. Is it a guaranteed deal-breaker? No. But it can't hurt.
Syracuse isn't without it's own share of football players who've made their mark on the track. Qadry Ismail and Art Monk both appear in the track and field record books. It's time to make that the norm. It's time to build a program that will attract better athletes not just to the track, but to the football field as well.