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JACKSON of all TRADES

Royal High Junior, Second in State as a Long Jumper, Works Hard to Make His Mark in Other Events

April 10, 1999|JOHN ORTEGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SIMI VALLEY — It's Good Friday and the Royal High track and field facility is bathed in sunshine on a cloudless morning.

School is out for spring break, but Royal track assistant Carol Myszkowski is coaching five triple jumpers while soft rock flows from her truck nearby.

Oliver Jackson, a 6-foot-1, 165-pound junior, is in his fifth voluntary workout of the week.

Jackson ranks second in the state in the long jump with a school-record leap of 24-1, but he considers himself a novice in the triple jump.

"I've got to work on everything in that event," Jackson said after the 2 1/2-hour workout. "I only started triple jumping last year, so I've got a lot to learn."

Jackson's humility is refreshing in an era of inflated egos.

Coach Don Reyes of Royal had a quick response when asked to list Jackson's strengths.

"His dedication and his sincerity about the sport," Reyes said. "Obviously, he's got a lot of athletic talent. But not everyone with his talent is willing to work hard."

Jackson, who will compete in the long jump in the Arcadia Invitational at Arcadia High today, gets his modesty and work ethic from his father Oliver, his mother Jessie and his half-brother Ralph Blanks.

Blanks ran 48.55 in the 400 meters and 38.77 in the 300 intermediate hurdles as a Royal senior in 1987.

"Ralph has definitely had a positive influence on him," Jackson Sr. said. "Oliver takes constructive criticism well from Ralph. Ralph will tell him, 'You're good and all that, but you still have to work to get better and reach your goals.' "

Jackson has big goals.

He wants to reach 25-8 in the long jump by the end of the season, a mark that would shatter the Ventura County record of 24-9 set by Ronney Jenkins of Hueneme in 1995 and move Jackson into 10th place on the all-time state list.

"It might seem like a lot, but I've just always aimed high," Jackson said.

Jackson already has improved greatly from last year, when he won the long jump in the Southern Section Masters Meet and won the long jump and triple jump in the Ventura County championships.

His 24-1 long jump is 11 inches farther than he leaped last year and ties him for third place on the all-time Ventura County list.

His best of 45-4 in the triple jump is a 15 1/2-inch improvement over last year. He has run hand-held times of 50.8 in the 400, 15.3 in the 110 high hurdles and 39.9 in the 300 intermediates.

"I started lifting weights last summer and that's helped a lot," Jackson said. "In the beginning of the season I felt so much more powerful than I had in the past. I could really feel a difference when I was running or jumping."

Jackson leaped 22-7 1/2 and 22-9 in the long jump in his first two meets this season before unleashing his 24-1 last month in a dual meet against Newbury Park.

The jump was the best outdoor mark in the nation at the time, and brought unwanted attention.

"I get sick of everyone talking about the 24," Jackson said. "I'm serious. My friends will say No. 1 in the nation and I'm like, 'Yeah. Great. Whatever.' That stuff plays with your head. I'm never going to be conceited or anything like that, but it just jumps around in your head and messes up your focus. I'd rather people didn't even know about the 24. . . . I just want to keep everything [in perspective]."

Jackson, a defensive back and wide receiver for the Highlanders, failed to focus at the Santa Barbara Easter Relays on March 27.

He was intent on breaking the meet record of 24-2 1/4 set by George Brown of L.A. Jordan in 1949, but he won with a jump of 23-6 1/2.

"That was a day when I didn't focus as much as I needed," Jackson said. "My nerves were just jumping around because they were making announcements about me trying to break the meet record. I've just got to learn to block all that stuff out. Just concentrate on myself and the jump. I can't worry about marks."

Reyes, who has coached at Royal since 1976, agreed with Jackson's assessment.

"I told him to let me do the thinking [when it comes to meet records]," Reyes said. "I told him that records come and go and will continue to do that, so he just needs to worry about staying relaxed when he jumps."

Although Jackson has gained national prominence as a long jumper, he wants to be known as an all-around performer.

That's why he has competed in several events this season.

In a meet against Newbury Park, Jackson ran the second leg on the winning 400 relay team that ran 44.2, won the long jump at 24-1, the 110 highs in 15.9 and the 200 in 23.1.

Two days later, he won the 400 in 50.8, the 300 intermediates in 39.9 and the long jump at 23-9, and he placed second in the 110 highs in 15.4 in the Channel Coast Invitational at Camarillo High.

"When people think of me, they think of the long jump," Jackson said. "But that's not all I want to do. There's the 200, the 400, the hurdles. I want to be more than a long jumper."

Jackson plans to compete in the long jump, triple jump, 110 highs and 300 intermediates in the Marmonte League finals May 7.

But today, he'll be among the most-watched competitors in an event that will include senior Vince Ibia of San Jose Silver Creek, the state leader at 24-3, and senior Dan Littlefield of Sonoma Valley, the fourth-place finisher in the state championships last year.

"I'm just approaching [Arcadia] like it's another meet," he said. "I think after [the Santa Barbara Relays] that I'm going to be able to control all the nerves and pressure. I just have to keep focused and block everything else out. That's the key."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Arcadia Invitational

Where: Arcadia High

When: Today, field events at 4 p.m.; running at 6:10 p.m.

Fast Fact: Five defending state champions will compete

*

Inside: Deneeka Torrey of Taft High prepares for spotlight. Page 14

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