Jason Kimmet always thought growing up that if he played a sport in college, it would be football.
By the time he was a junior at Columbus East, Kimmet was considering running track in college.
But not until after visiting the University of Memphis for the first time was Kimmet sold on competing at the collegiate level. Three years later, he’s glad he gave it a shot.
Late last month, Kimmet wrapped up the indoor season by anchoring the Tigers 4×400-meter relay team to the American Athletic Conference title.
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“(Track) was not on my mind at all,” Kimmet said. “If any sport, I was going to do football, but then it just kind of happened.”
Kimmet, who was a wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner on the Olympians’ 2013 state football championship team, actually decided to go to Memphis after his girlfriend Faith Myers committed to play volleyball there. Kimmet’s father and the previous Memphis sprint coach exchanged e-mails and then went on a visit, talked with the coach about their program and philosophy.
As a freshman, Kimmet ran the open 400 and 4×400. He got sick in Connecticut the day before the outdoor AAC meet, but still ran a personal-best 48.99 in the open 400, then helped the Tigers to a second-place finish in the 4×400.
Then last year, Kimmet transitioned to the 400 hurdles. He had never run hurdles in high school and only a couple of times as a freshman at Memphis.
“My coach brought me aside, and said ‘Now that outdoor is here, you might be able to try hurdles and see how it goes and maybe put up a good time for (conference) finals,’” Kimmet said. “I was trustworthy in the coach. Last year, I started to progress. I enjoy it actually a little bit better than the open event.”
Kimmet finished fourth in the AAC in the 400 hurdles, and his time of 52.45 seconds was 49th-best overall in the East region, just three-hundreths of a second out of the 48th and final qualifying spot to the NCAA meet.
This year, Kimmet finished sixth in open 400 in the AAC indoor meet in an indoor personal-best 49.07. He ran a 48.0 anchor split in the 4×400 relay to hold off Houston and help the Tigers win in 3:13.96.
“It was unbelievable,” Kimmet said. “When Houston was talking before like they were getting ready to break the facility record, I was not expecting this at all. But when I saw the times come up, I was running around high-fiving everybody. I was full of excitement.”
Although he’s a captain, Kimmet is still a walk-on. The civil engineering major, however, is on a partial academic scholarship.
Now that the outdoor season is starting, Kimmet is turning his attention back to the 400 hurdles. His goal is to make it to get in the top 24 in the country, which would earn him a spot in the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
“For someone’s transition from any event to the 400 hurdles, that speaks a lot for their character,” Memphis sprints/hurdles coach Miles Smith said. “That’s a very grueling race. Jason is a mentally tough kid, so it’s impressive what he’s been able to accomplish. He’s just now learning how to get a 13-to-15 step rhythm for the first time.”
Smith helped the United States to a world championship in the 4×400 relay in 2005 in Helsinki, Finland. He is in first year at Memphis after moving over from his alma mater, Southeast Missouri.
Smith said he noticed Kimmet’s tenacity and scrappiness from seeing him at meets over the past couple of years and now, from coaching him personally.
“I’ve been very impressed with what he’s been able to do in a short amount of time,” Smith said. “He’s a scrappy runner. It’s never pretty, but he always gets the job done.”
Name: Jason Kimmet
High school: Columbus East
Major: Civil engineering
Sport: Track and field
Events: 400-meter hurdles, 4×400 relay