Freshman phenom: NCAA title the next leap for UA's Hibbert

Arkansas jumper Jaydon Hibbert competes during his first-place performance in the triple jump finals, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, during the Razorbacks’ championship sweep at the Southeastern Conference 2023 Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville. Visit for today's photo gallery..(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas freshman Jaydon Hibbert isn't wasting any time -- or triple jumps.

Hibbert, who turned 18 on Jan. 17, should be a high school senior in his hometown of Kingston, Jamaica. But after graduating early, he already has set collegiate records for the triple jump indoors and outdoors in his first year with the Razorbacks.

When Hibbert won the triple jump at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships on March 11 in Albuquerque, N.M., with a leap of 57 feet, 6 1/2 inches, he broke the collegiate record of 57-1 set by Mike Conley in 1985 as an Arkansas senior.

At the SEC Outdoor Championships on May 13 in Baton Rouge, La., Hibbert won with a mark of 58-7 1/2 to break the collegiate record of 57-7 3/4 by SMU's Keith Connor in 1982. Conley is No. 3 on the list at 57-6 1/2.

In setting both records, Hibbert took a total of eight triple jumps combined at Arkansas. He took a ninth jump at the NCAA West Prelims in Sacramento, Calif., two weeks ago and went 55-2 to automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships, which begin today in Austin, Texas.

"For Jaydon's form and technique to be as advanced as it is, he was just born to do it," said Conley, the 1992 Olympic gold medalist and 1984 silver medalist in the triple jump who combined for nine NCAA long and triple jump titles and 17 All-American honors at Arkansas. "He's a way better jumper than I ever was technique-wise.

"It took me almost a lifetime to be able to look like he does as a freshman.

"He puts in the work on top of it, and he seems humble and eager to learn. That's a recipe for greatness."

Hibbert said the plan for this season worked out by Arkansas assistant coach Travis Geopfert was to limit his jumps as he goes through a growth spurt.

When Hibbert arrived at Arkansas last fall, he was 5-9. He's now 5-11 and 165 pounds and has continued to grow. He believes he might be 6-1 by next year.

"Coach Geopfert has encouraged me to go out there and get in a good first or second jump," Hibbert said. "That way I put pressure on the rest of the field and can relax and enjoy the competition.

"I've been blessed to go far on that first jump, second jump. You don't have to jump again, and you don't hurt your body as much."

Hibbert set the World Under-20 Record at 56-8 last summer in Cali, Colombia, so he came to Arkansas with high expectations. But no one predicted he would break collegiate records that stood for 38 and 41 years.

"It's amazing what Jaydon has done here so quickly," Razorbacks Coach Chris Bucknam said. "He's exceeded my expectations.

"We knew he was a special athlete when we recruited him, but I honestly didn't believe he was going to be this special as a freshman."

Hibbert said he's showing what young people can accomplish when they work hard and are focused.

"You should never, ever limit yourself," he said. "I've learned that through all my jumps the past three years."

Three years was the extent of Hibbert's experience as a triple jumper going into this season. He took up the event as a ninth-grader after previously competing in the high jump, long jump, 110-meter hurdles and 400 meters.

"One day in practice I was training for the 400, and I saw one of my teammates triple jumping," Hibbert said. "I was like, 'Oh, that looks cool. Let me give it a try.' "

Hibbert said at that time he was 5-5 and 140 pounds.

"I spoke to one of the coaches about trying the triple jump, and he said, 'Look at you, you're so little,' " Hibbert said. "But they let me try it, and at first I wasn't that good technically, and I wasn't that strong or that fast.

"But the coaches worked tirelessly with me, because they saw the potential, saw that I learned really fast and adapted really well and I took instructions really nicely."

By Hibbert's second year as a triple jumper, he took silver medal at the 2021 World Under-20 Championships with a mark of 52-8 in Nairobi, Kenya.

"I was the youngest in the field at 16 years old," Hibbert said. "Everybody else was 19."

Hibbert decided to graduate from high school a year early as he began drawing scholarship offers from U.S. colleges.

"I wanted to get ready for the next level," Hibbert said. "Strike while the iron is hot."

Along with Arkansas, Hibbert said he had offers from Oregon, Florida, LSU, Texas Tech, Texas and Alabama.

Hibbert said he didn't take any recruiting visits, but that Arkansas was his choice because of Geopfert and the Razorbacks' long list of star triple jumpers including Conley, Erick Walder, Robert Howard, Brian Wellman, Melvin Lister, Nkosinza Balumba, Clive Pullen and Erick Floreal, who is now Texas' coach.

"I just knew I wanted to come to Arkansas," Hibbert said. "What really struck me were the performances from the guys that were here before me."

Now Hibbert is at the top of the Razorbacks' all-time performance list.

"I think the biggest thing about Jaydon is he's just so coachable," Geopfert said. "You tell him what to do, and he just does it.

"He doesn't question anything. It's just, 'Yes sir,' and then he goes and does it."

Hibbert also excels in the classroom. He had a 3.9 grade point average this year working towards a degree in sports management.

"Jaydon's so grounded," Bucknam said. "That's a compliment to Jaydon and his parents.

"For a kid his age, he's very mature. He's really bought into Coach Geopfert and his philosophy, his training, and the overall team culture that we have here. That's what I've been most impressed with."

The triple jump at the NCAA Championship will be Friday night. Hibbert is the heavy favorite and might be ready to break his own collegiate record.

"Jaydon's not going to put any limits on himself, and I'm not going to put any limits on him either," Geopfert said. "I think for all of us involved, it's got to be a focus on the process. Because if you get away from that, that's when things get away from you.

"I know that's a cliche, but we're going to focus on the process and execution of the plan."

Hibbert said his collegiate debut season has been better than he could have imagined.

"A couple of years ago I wasn't projected to get a scholarship, and now I'm at the best university out there," he said. "I'm really loving it at Arkansas.

"During my training for the indoor season, I knew I was going to jump far. But I didn't know it was going to be a collegiate record.

"Outdoors, my training wasn't geared for a collegiate record at the SEC meet, but it happened.

"Now I've had to get back to work and reset things. Hopefully, there's more in the tank."

Hibbert smiled when asked the key to staying humble when he's enjoyed so much success so quickly.

"Ever since I've been humble, I've been jumping further," he said. "So why get cocky?"