An oval track is taking Jabari Dillard from here to Grovetown, Georgia to Iowa.
Dillard, a rising junior at Clinton High School, is headed to Drake University in Des Moines, at the end of July for the AAU Track and Field Junior Olympics and will compete in the 110m high hurdles after a personal record-setting performance at the AAU Region 8 Track and Field Championship in Grovetown, Georgia earlier this month.
His victory in the event at the regional competition was another highlight in a summer of marked improvement for Dillard on the track. He has watched personal-best times improve over and over, setting a new mark of 14.82 in Grovetown.
“(During the high school track season) I was coming from football, and I wasn’t seeing any progress at that time,” Dillard said. “But now during the summertime, I’ve had time to rest, so I think I’ve learned that rest is really important to give my body time to recover.”
His new personal-best of 14.82 seconds in the event is around 1 second better than where he began this past spring and about 2.5 seconds faster than when he began in the event as a freshman. But Clinton head track coach Dontavius Glenn said he expects Dillard’s latest personal record to fall by the wayside like the others as Dillard continues to improve.
“By midseason, I was very surprised at how quick his times dropped, but he’s been doing all the work and doing everything right,” Glenn said. “He has two more years of high school competition, and I think it will be amazing to see what happens.”
Getting to the national stage as rising junior in high school could be as valuable as it was surprising – even to Dillard.
“I didn’t really think I was going to like track and didn’t think I would be going to the Junior Olympics,” he said. “It kind of gives me hope that I can really do something in the sport. I’m really excited.”
Glenn believes that to be true as well.
“Right now with his time, he would qualify for a Division II scholarship. The 13s (times between 13 and 14 seconds) is sort of the cutoff for full scholarships at Division I,” Glenn said. “If he says healthy and keeps working, he can do get there. He will be competing for a state championship by his senior year.”
Dillard, who won a Region 4-3A championship with Clinton’s 4X100 relay team, said that has become the plan. He has a 4.69 GPA and plans to study architecture or another field in pre-construction when he gets to college.
“I want to get an academic scholarship, but if I got a Division I scholarship and could compete in track at that level, that would be the cherry on top,” he said.
But the more immediate focus is on getting to Des Moines.
Dillard, who expects to play his first year of varsity football for the Red Devils this fall as a running back, is not currently part of an AAU Track and Field team, so he doesn’t have the same coaching or financial support some of his competitors at the Junior Olympic meet will have.
His mother, Mia Dillard, has organized a GoFundMe page in the hopes of raising around $2,000 for the trip to the Midwest. Donations can also be made through CashApp to $JabarisJOFund.