Josh Kendall

Setting a high bar for USC’s Tye Williams

Tye Williams, a junior at South Carolina, is one of the top high jumpers in the SEC and in the country.
Tye Williams, a junior at South Carolina, is one of the top high jumpers in the SEC and in the country. USC Athletics Department

The key for Tye Williams to keep up one of collegiate track’s most impressive hot streaks this weekend at the SEC Outdoor Championships will be controlling his emotions, but it’s not going to be easy with his mom Rachel Williams in the stands for the first time in his collegiate career.

“My goal here is to go out here and win this thing in front of my mom,” said Williams, a junior high jumper at South Carolina. “This is her first track meet, because she’s always so busy working supporting me and my brother that she was always too busy to come. This is the first one she will ever see, and I want to make it the best one she’s ever seen also.”

Tye Williams will begin his quest for his first conference title Friday at South Carolina’s new Sheila and Morris Cregger Track. The high jump preliminaries and final will be held in Friday’s evening session while nearly 350 of the SEC’s top track and field athletes participate in other events.

After the last five weeks, Williams definitely is one of the favorites. He finished 10th in this event last year and entered the 2017 season with a personal record of 6 feet, 10 3/4 inches, but in a little less than a month he has set two personal records, including setting a USC record of 7-4 1/2 at the Penn Relays on April 27.

It is the second-best collegiate mark in the country this year and the best so far in the SEC outdoor season.

“There were a lot of things in training that indicated he could do it, but it just hadn’t happened yet,” USC assistant head coach for jumps and multi-sport events Delethea Quarles said.

There were times when both Quarles and Williams wondered if it would ever come together for him. He arrived at USC having learned the sport almost exclusively by watching You Tube videos and trying to imitate what he saw from the world’s best jumpers.

“My first two years were pretty rough,” he said. “When I actually had a high jump coach who knew exactly what she was talking about, it was tough for me to let go everything I learned how to do myself. We had a tough time, bumped heads a little bit because I wasn’t ready to let go of what I knew.”

Even the language Quarles used – like J curve – was foreign to Williams. It took the pair two full seasons to iron out all the wrinkles in their athlete-coach relationship, Williams said.

“I felt like I was in kindergarten working my way back through school again,” he said. “Once I let myself go and trusted my coach, everything she was trying to explain to me started to make sense to me.”

It should have. Quarles is in her 27th year as a collegiate coach and was the head women’s coach for Team USA in the 2015 World Championships.

“He had to give himself over to a coach and listening and not just doing what he thought or felt,” she said. “It took a few years. He’s learned to trust me. It’s really good, finally, for us to get to this place.”

Williams began running track during his freshman year at Effingham County High in southeast Georgia just miles from Hilton Head as a way to stay in shape for football and basketball, and with the help of all those YouTube videos, he had jumped 6 feet, 10 inches by his junior season.

“My life changed immediately after I jumped 6-10,” he said.

While he had drawn small school recruiting interest prior to that, all of the SEC’s and ACC’s top track powers started coming around.

“When I broke 6-10, it was a whole ’nother ball game, because I broke Champ Bailey’s record,” Williams said of the former Georgia prep star and NFL Pro Bowler. “That just set a lot of stuff off.”

He chose South Carolina because of the family atmosphere and what he saw as the program’s potential to push him. That decision has led to this weekend, where he says he thinks he has a chance for another personal record if he can control his emotions and concentrate on his technique.

“ I’m sure he’d love to win. I’d love for him to win, too,” Quarles said. “This is a very, very tough meet, but being at home and being able to draft off that energy, I feel like our best is going to get us on the podium and we hope for it to be a win.”