Interview: Jeremy Protz

    With most of the focus on the parallel lanes of the track, it is difficult for field event athletes to get much recognition, usually competing in pits and circles out of the spectators' view.

But it's a different story in Priceville, especially for pole vaulters.

At The Barn, the pole vault pit is in the infield of the track, right beside the finishline. This is a rare spotlight for vaulters accustomed to the obscurity of a far endzone.

Scottsboro senior vaulter and 5A state record holder Jeremy Protz made the most of his time in the spotlight at the Early Bird Invitational, setting a new personal best of 14' 6" and entertaining the crowd with his daring acrobatics, both during the vault and after.

Just hours after his record-setting meet, Jeremy Protz took the time for this interview with AlabamaRunners.

Alabama Runners: How have you prepared for this season, starting with May 5, the day after the 2002 State meet?

Jeremy Protz: Well, a couple of us from my team trained lightly for the decathalon. I went to a vault camp in June to attain skills I needed to make the most of this 2003 season. I hit the weights and started to run some for indoor track.

AR: Are you giving more attention to your other events--hurdles and relays-- this year than you did last year?

JP: I am paying alot of attention to the events I'm not comfortable running. Last year coach threw me on a few events in hopes that I could score for the team. Now that I am a senior, and I guess you could say a leader, I am needed to run other events.

AR: Do you think the extra work you have to put in for these events will effect your vaulting in anyway, either positively or negatively?

JP: For vault training, I do think all the running I do will benifit the vault, for speed and endurance and all that. But having to run before I work on the vault is tough for me.

AR: What's the typical day of practice like for Mr. Jeremy Protz?

JP: After the drive over to the track from the school, I'll put my running clothes on--sometimes as I drive down the road just to save some time. When I get out to the track I'll run about zero or one of the two warm up laps that we are told to do. Then I stretch and do a few warm up drills. After that's over with we listen to Coach Esslinger talk about the latest meet or what our work-out is for that day is. I am always in hopes that I can go work on the vault, but that's usually shot down by 2*500 and 3* 300. After that im pretty tired so I end up just doing some pop-up drills at the pole vault pit. On days that I vault, I go down to the pit, stretch a little more, do some pop ups, then go for heights the whole practice.

AR: What are some different ways to get out of those warm-ups?

JP: Well, to get out of warm-up laps I usually just jog around once and stop. Another one, I sometimes will hide in the porta-pot that's 200 meters from the start and wait until I see the people that were running behind me, so I still end up doing only one lap. Other times I'll simply stand around and not do any.

AR: Terrific, Jeremy. What's your favorite part of going to track practice?

JP: The people, it has to be the people. I have had a lot of good times with the guys and girls I run with. Will Mcgee, Shawn Kays, Daniel Nolan, Tammy Freeman... those are just a few of the people out of the many that I run who have made practice a good time. I can't leave out the the former Scottsboro runners that made it a blast; Zack McDole, James Guthrie, Dale Hancock.

AR: How do you think vaulting has shaped your personality, the way you think of yourself or the way your non-track friends think of you?

JP: That's hard to say because it feels like I have been vaulting all my life. I started in 7th grade and it just seemed to click with me, from the first time I rode the pole into the pit I fell in love with the sport. The vault has given me a confidence that I think some people feel I shouldn't have. But I think it has helped me, too, that God has given me everything, and I know that without Him none of the things that I have accomplished would have been possible.

AR: Because of the way the Barn is set-up, the pole vault is probably THE prime spectator event of the indoor season. Do you recognize indoor as something special because of that? Do you feel any added pressure from the fans' involvement, or do you try to put on any extra show?

JP: I love the Celebration Arena. It's because all the teams are close together and it's a whole lot easier to meet people. I didn't see it as anything more than that, but the crowed involvement helps out a lot for me. But now that Thomas Fowlkes, Trey Hardee, and Alex Morris are graduated I'm going to try to put on a show for the fans, though it's going to be hard to match the 15 - 16 foot jumps Thomas and Trey preformed.

AR: Well, 14' 6" is getting awfully close. Speaking of that height, take us through the jump sequence leading up to your record-setting vault.

JP: The Thursday before the meet I couldn't even clear 13 feet, and so coming into the meet I was nervous. My warm-ups felt good, but I wasn't getting any penetration. I knew that when the bar came up I would have to do what I know to do. I started at 12 feet (a little low for me) because I was a little unsure of what I could do. I cleared it on my first attempt but it was a nasty jump. So I passed to 13, in hopes that I would have a better jump the next time. Thirteen feet was a better jump, as I had hoped, and I was pleased that I had gone that far, because I haven't had but two days of practice. When 13'6" came around, I was hoping I wouldn't miss, and to my surprise I cleared it on my first attempt.

Next, I pretty muched matched my personal record, 14' 3". I Cleared 14 on my first attempt, just as I did the other four heights, and I was really pleased that I was on track and already where I was at the end of last season.

I could have gone to 14' 4" to try for one inch above my personal record, but I said , "Nah, let's go for 14'6". The idea was only to see where I stand and how high to shoot for at state and outdoor state.

Well, the first attempt at 14'6" was terrible; I didn't go anywhere. The pole slipped in my hands and I just bailed out. My second attempt was decent, but I didn't stay patient on the pole and still missed it. I moved my standards back and prepared for my third attempt at 14'6''. So...I'm standing on the runway about to go. I honestly felt no pressure. Nothing about it made me nervous. I don't know why. I knew as I planted the pole that I had to stay back longer, and I cleared the record-breaking height with a little bit of a nudge of the bar. I was pumped about it because I knew that this could be the start of a really good year for me.

AR: So what are your goals for indoor and outdoor now?

JP: The night before the meet, I wrote down my goal heights for indoor and outdoor. Much to my surprise, I have already achieve my goal for indoor. So, I guess I'm going to have to set it a little heigher now. But my goal for outdoor is 15'3". I think that's a reasonable goal, not unattainable, and realistic. So I'm going to keep working hard to get faster and get my technique better.

AR: What about in your other events and for your team?

JP: I want our 4*200 relay team to run a low 1:36. In the 55m hurdles I would like to run a low 8. I would like to see Scottsboro High School take home a blue trophy, and with guys like Daniel Nolan and Will McGee bringing in big points along with a strong supporting cast, we have a great team to do it.

AR: Your college choice as of now is Evangel University, where you plan to cheer. Do you have any cheering experience? And if you have a great spring and a big school comes with money, would you take it?

JP: To be honest, I haven't made a commitment to Evangel University...yet. It's an out of state school and tutition is high, so I'll take money from where ever I can get it.

No, I don't have any cheering experience, but I can tumble like a maniac and I have practiced a little on stunts, you know, throw'n up the ladies. If I hit a 15 foot jump and I get an in-state offer, more than likely I will take that offer.

AR: How does vaulting now feel different from vaulting in junior high? What advice can you give a junior high athlete to get from where you were then to where you are now?

JP: Vaulting now doesn't feel much different from when I was in junior high, other than the technique gets a bit more complicated and heights get higher. To the Junior High guys reading this: If you're not doing so well at the vault, it might be best for you to just quit. JUST KIDDING! No way, don't give it up! If you like doing it, keep on doing it and find ways to make yourself better. No one jumps 13 feet their first time, so don't give up if the first day you come out and feel like you're not good. It takes time and alot of practice.

AR: Who were the biggest influences to getting you into track, and to what or whom do you attribute any part of your success?

JP: Wow! What a question. Basketball season was over in Febuary of 1998, and I tried out for baseball. I didn't make it. I needed to do something, because I didn't want to go home every day after school and do nothing but homework. So a classmate of mine by the name of Billy Wyatt or Barnheart or Green, or what ever his last name was at the time, told me I needed to run track. So that's pretty much how I got into the the Track and Field sport.

I have to say my relationship with Jesus Christ has been my biggest attribute; without Him I never could have accomplished anything. Coach Alan Garner has had a huge impact in my vaulting. Before he came I was only vaulting 11 feet. He pushed and worked a freshman to vault 13'. So I give Coach Garner props for getting me to where I am now. Hey, where would I be without my mother... she has always told me I can do what ever I want to do, and she has always backed me up. So she's there supporting me even though she can't always be right there watching.

To have guys to vault with, Matt Vogtner, Thomas Fowlkes, Trey Hardee and Alex Morris, intensified my disstatisfaction of not being as good, which forced me to work harder. And last but not least, Coach John Esslinger. He has taught me dedication and even though he has gotten pretty upset with me over the past couple of years, he has always been there to support me.

AR: Do you remember what your better tests were in the presidential tests back in grade school? do you remember any of your times or marks from those?

JP: In 5th grade I was cheated out of my mile run time because JJ Ford counted my laps. I paced with Jill Bryant the whole time, and when I had finished I had a 6:15. But Coach Steve Johnson was always partial to the girls and he said I had another lap. It was the last day for fitness testing, and I thought that was some bull crap.

AR: A crock, indeed. If you didn't do track, what other sport or hobby would you pursue?

JP: I would still be in basketball, and I probably would have tried out for the baseball team again.

AR: What is the greatest thrill from the sport that you experience regularly?

JP: It's great that the whole track and field sport is all indivudual but everyone still counts on others, which makes it a team sport. I experience the need of my team and the need for them, and it's a high to know people are counting on you.

AR: What has been the single high point of your career?

JP: When I broke the 5A state record my sophomore year with a jump of 14'3". I never saw that in the cards for me that year.

AR: Thanks for your time, Jeremy.

JP: No problem, Guthrie.