By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
When Stillwater High School track coach Rusty Atkins describes Brandon Prather, he just needs one word — explosive.
Prather has dropped jaws ever since finishing sixth in the long jump last season as a freshman, despite having only a week and a half to work with the Pioneer track coaches.
But the key for Prather is harnessing that explosive power and using it at the right time — like in the state long jump meet.
“We saw what he could do last year,” Atkins said. “We were only able to work with him a week and a half before regionals then, so we knew that with a whole season to work with him that he was going to improve.”
And improve he did.
Armed with the help of Oklahoma State track athlete Ryan Gibson, Prather fought through shin splints and still set a career best with a jump of 23 feet, 5.5 inches to win the Class 6A long jump title.
“I really worked for it this year,” Prather said. “We had a new long jump coach come help us this year. … (Gibson) came out there and helped me with all my form and technique. Last year I didn’t really have technique, I just went out and jumped. This year, he taught me a lot of stuff. If I didn’t have him, I probably wouldn’t have won.”
Gibson may have played a huge part in Prather’s ability to soar where few high school athletes have soared before, but it wasn’t just the physical technique that helped Prather bring home the title. There was also a mental aspect — not just a desire to win, but a need to win — that Atkins noticed this season.
“The thing I’ve noticed that’s maybe different this year is his commitment to the sport,” Atkins said. “He had a lot more motivation this year. He understands what it takes to be successful and he made a commitment to get better.”
Even when the Pioneer football team started its practice and the shin splits started to get gradually worse, Prather didn’t back down. Instead he combined the toughness he uses on the gridiron with his desire to win — a combination that eventually turned into gold.
“It was kind of tough,” Prather said. “Once you start doing all these sports, you get shin splints and all these other types of injuries. You just push through it. It’s kind of what you have to do.
“There’s all this new type of tape that they use and I was taking Advil, so I didn’t feel it as much as I was at other meets. I like to win, that’s all I like to do. Whenever I’m not winning, I kind of have this fight in me to work harder and try harder.”
Whether it’s fighting through injuries or fighting to improve his technique, there’s little doubt that Prather has the explosive ability to be one of the best long jumpers in Stillwater High School history.
But with two more seasons left, Atkins said he will have a new fight next season — defending his crown.
“That’s the hope,” Atkins said. “It’s tough to repeat, with so many younger guys coming after you, but as long as he can stay healthy he should be in good shape. He still has some things to work on. He needs more explosion from his hips, but that’s something we’ll try to work on next season.”
As for Prather, he’s already writing down a couple of goals for his junior year — one of them clearing 25 feet.
“I’m hoping I keep improving on my long jump,” Prather said. “Hopefully, I’ll start jumping in the 25s. What I was doing wrong last year was I was just jumping really flat and I didn’t get up like I was supposed to. When you’re running and long jumping, you already have enough speed that when you jump you go far. You just want to work on jumping high and that’s what I’m going to do.”