One year ago, Raymond Humphrey, Georgetown's all-America long jumper and triple jumper, would have leaped into any sand pit he could find. Now he chooses his jumping opportunities more carefully.
Humphrey's selective strategy paid dividends throughout the outdoor season. At the IC4A meet, he jumped a personal-best 25 feet 11 1/4 inches to win the long jump and 52-6 to take the triple jump.
At the recent NCAA outdoor meet in Austin, Tex., he surpassed that mark with a long jump of 26-4 1/2 to take second behind Arkansas' Mike Conley.
His strategy is being tested again this weekend at the U.S. Track and Field Championships in Indianapolis, where he jumped 25- 3/4 to qualify for today's final in the long jump.
But it was in Austin, Tex., the place where he recently earned all-America honors for his second-place jump, that his headlong runway rushes first caught up with him a little more than a year ago.
Humphrey, a sophomore, began jumping as a high school junior in Chelsea, N.Y. Before that, he had played basketball and football.
"I was like everyone else in high school," he said. "I didn't see myself as an athlete. I was just doing what my friends did."
During his senior year, he was state champion in the triple jump, prompting him to think he had a future in the sport.
Last year at Georgetown, with the help of a weight program and Coach Walter Krolman, Humphrey earned all-America honors in the indoor long jump.
Buoyed by his indoor accomplishment, Humphrey believed he also could qualify for the outdoor long jump at the NCAAs.
In his haste to do so, Humphrey jumped in every meet Georgetown entered and some it didn't. Amid the hectic schedule, he partially tore a hamstring in a meet in Austin.
"I lost my speed," he said. "I couldn't move. It had more impact in the long jump (than the triple jump) because speed is so important."
Humphrey rested for two weeks, but his return was premature. "I never did return to form and I never broke 25 feet again," he said.
The prospect of not making the NCAA outdoor championships or the Olympic trials sent him into a frenzy as he tried to qualify.
"This time last year I was going all over the place," he said. "On the following Friday (after he failed to qualify at the IC4As), I took a van to Penn State and I didn't qualify. So I took a van back down to (the University of) Maryland where Georgetown was holding a meet.
"At that point, I was just interested in qualifying. If you don't qualify early, you go into a panic. I wanted to qualify for the NCAAs and the Olympic trials but it never materialized."
A year later, Humphrey has matured a lifetime.
"I had a lot of time to think," he said. "When I was watching the Olympic trials, I had a lot of time to heal."
He did not train at all over the summer. Instead, Humphrey rested his sprinter's muscles and played basketball and swam. "I did everything except run," he said.
"This year I started differently. Last year I jumped in every meet I could. This year I took breaks. I was rested during the season . . . The competition I face forces me to put out 100 to 150 percent. There's no way I can possibly be up for every meet."
Humphrey's new approach, jumping less frequently to stay fresh and to maintain intensity, has worked.
He was named the meet's outstanding performer for winning both his events at the IC4As at Princeton. In the NCAA indoor meet at Syracuse, Humphrey decided to concentrate on one event and placed third in the long jump.
Humphrey rested three weeks before the start of the outdoor season. Shortly after, he jumped 25-10 at the Hoya Invitational.
His recent performances, especially those at the IC4As, make him confident he can compete with people like Arkansas' vaunted long jumpers Conley and Joey Wells on a regular basis.
"I'm hoping I can edge in with those guys," he said.