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The senior is one of 10 Hokies in the NCAA outdoor track and field championships.
BRITTANY TATUM | Virginia Tech
Jeff Artis-Gray won the long jump at the ACC indoor meet at Virginia Tech in February.
DAVE KNACHEL | Virginia Tech
Hokies senior Jeff Artis-Gray won the long jump at the NCAA East outdoor meet in Greensboro, N.C.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
BLACKSBURG — The academic advisers in the Virginia Tech athletic department usually offer tips about classes and tutors.
Jeff Artis-Gray’s academic adviser helped him become a first-team All-America long jumper.
Thanks in part to advice from Tone Belt, Artis-Gray is one of the contenders to win the long jump today when he concludes his college career at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships in Eugene, Ore.
Artis-Gray was already a standout before Tech hired Belt. As a junior last year, he broke the school outdoor record in the long jump — a mark that had stood for 41 years.
But he wanted to be even better.
Fortunately, Belt was hired as a Tech academic adviser last summer. When the Louisville graduate mentioned to Artis-Gray that he had won the long jump at the 2007 NCAA indoor championships, Artis-Gray asked him for his expertise.
Belt observed him at some practices and meets.
“I kind of went under his wing,” Artis-Gray said. “He looked … and said, ‘It’s your landing. You definitely have to change your landing.’ Because I was doing a very high school, beginning landing. So I listened to him, changed my landing around.”
That adjustment helped make him a champion.
During the indoor season, the senior won the ACC title he had long coveted with a jump of 25 feet, 10 inches — breaking the school indoor record that had stood for 29 years. He earned All-America honors with a seventh-place finish at the NCAA indoor meet.
When he took second at the ACC outdoor meet this spring, he broke his own school outdoor record by more than a foot with a jump of 26-0 3⁄4.
Artis-Gray won the long jump at the NCAA East outdoor meet last month with a jump of 25-8 1⁄4. That distance earned him the second seed in the event at the national championships.
Changing his landing technique has certainly paid off.
“You have to tell yourself mentally, ‘Land when you have to, not when you feel comfortable landing,’ ” Belt said.
“You’ve got to hold [your form] a little bit longer,” Artis-Gray said. “It actually gives you a lot more time in the air. I’m basically holding my legs up above my hips.”
Artis-Gray was a Group AAA hurdles champ and an all-state jumper at Western Branch High School in Chesapeake, reaping a scholarship from Oklahoma.
But he left that university after his freshman year. He said the Sooners used him only as a hurdler, while he wanted to also be a jumper.
He transferred to Tech so he could display his versatility.
“The first time I met him, I said, ‘Hallelujah!’ ” said Tech assistant Charles Foster, who coaches the jumpers, hurdlers and sprinters.
Artis-Gray helped the men’s track and field squad win the first three ACC team championships in its history.
At the 2011 ACC indoor meet, he contributed to Tech’s championship by placing in the 60-meter hurdles, the long jump and triple jump. At the 2012 outdoor meet, he aided in another title by placing in the long jump and in two relays. When Tech won the indoor meet this year, he not only won the long jump but also took third in the 60-meter hurdles and in a relay.
“In these championships, he’s been a key figure,” said Tech director of track and field Dave Cianelli, whose men’s team is ranked 10th nationally. “He’s been one of those athletes that is pretty rare these days, that is very good in several different areas. In our sports, a lot of these athletes start to specialize at a pretty young age. You don’t see too many athletes anymore at the collegiate level that are doing several event areas.
“He’s probably the most versatile athlete we’ve had since I’ve been at Virginia Tech.”
Artis-Gray owns six school records, including two hurdles marks and shares of two relay records.
But the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Artis-Gray said his favorite event is the long jump.
“My body type is made for it,” he said. “I’m a great sprinter. And I’ve got a lot of power, so bringing that speed down the runway and then using that power to explode off the board is going to take me very far.”
He just hopes to keep his composure today.
At the NCAA indoor championships at Arkansas this year, he managed to finish seventh even though only one of his jumps counted.
He fouled on his other five attempts.
“I was sprinting down the runway and I just wanted to pop something really good, so I was way, way too excited,” he said. “I couldn’t calm myself down. I was happy to get one legal jump in.
“This go-around, [the attitude] is going to be, ‘Keep it calm. Just be a quiet storm and blast down the runway.’ ”
Artis-Gray graduated last month with a degree in resource management. He plans to remain at Tech as a volunteer assistant so he can continue training there.
He would also like to become a high school coach, and has spoken to Cave Spring coach Tommy Maguire about possibly becoming a Knights assistant as well.
Now that he is a college graduate, he plans to adopt a new look.
Artis-Gray has dreadlocks that cascade past his shoulders, but he intends to cut them this summer.
“It’s just time for a change. I think I might get faster without my hair,” he said with a laugh.
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