KEARNEY — Montrez Jackson recorded his highest-ever high jump when he cleared the bar set at 6 feet, 11 inches in the University of Nebraska at Kearney Spring Invitational on April 14.
It was one of the best marks in UNK’s men’s track and field history and a notable accomplishment for Jackson, who is 5-10, 160 pounds. The jump also ranks ninth in Division II this season and makes him a provisional qualifier for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in May.
Jackson nearly qualified for the Indoor Championships in March but his jump of 6-9 3/4 fell just short.
"It motivated me a lot," Jackson said. "I knew I could make it at 6-11. At conference I jumped over it and barely hit it with my heals and it fell off. I was that close. I knew it just game down to execution. When the time came, I made the most of it."
It’s been a busy semester for Jackson, who’s in his second year as a two-sport student-athlete.
He participated in about half of the spring football practices and has competed in track and field since the season began in December. It’s a time commitment but an experience Jackson doesn’t regret doing.
Jackson has excelled in both sports. His success in track and field is notable, especially since it is his secondary sport.
"It takes a lot of cooperation," track and field coach assistant coach Lonny Polacek said. "We realize that Trez is a talented kid and a commodity that both teams need. I think we’ve both been flexible in the process."
Jackson wasn’t recruited as a two-sport athlete. When then-football assistant coach Kevin Bleil called Jackson, a Florida native, to invite him on an official visit, the interest was exclusively for his football talent.
He redshirted his first season at UNK in 2017. When he was heading to a team meeting during the season, he saw track and field athletes practicing the high jump, he said. It sparked his interest in joining the team, especially since he was a high jumper in high school.
"I thought they weren’t jumping that high," Jackson said. "I wondered if I could try out the jump. I asked and one thing led to another, and I’m here now."
He joined the track and field team as a freshman and competed in the indoor and outdoor seasons.
His first event was the Charlie Foster Preholiday Classic in December 2017 when he placed second with a high jump of 6-5 1/2. He showed improvement in the event throughout the season and recorded a 6-9 3/4 jump twice, including in the MIAA Outdoor Championships.
Jackson returned to the football field for his redshirt freshman season last fall and was a major contributor for the Lopers, who posted their best season since 2011.
The slot receiver caught 18 passes for 397 yards and one touchdown while rushing for 122 yards and two scores on 25 carries last season. He also led the team with 18 kickoff returns for 389 yards.
Jackson is one of four football players who also are on the track and field team. Even though the student-athletes aren’t focused exclusively on one sport, football coach Josh Lynn supports their decisions.
"You want a good college experience for everybody," Lynn said. "As long as they are getting their work in in both sports, not just football, I think it’s a good opportunity for the young men."
Although Jackson thrives in both sports, football is his favorite. He has a deep passion for the sport, as he started playing it at a young age.
"Football is my baby," Jackson said. "It’s always a sport that will be near and dear to my heart. If it came down to it, I think football would be my favorite sport."
Polacek believes the athleticism and competitiveness Jackson has gained from football aids in his success in the high jump.
Jackson hopes to improve his technique and execution over the final month of the season. He wants to build off his Spring Invitational performance and set a new program record in the high jump.
His 6-11 jump ranks fourth in program history. Tim Mohanna and Jim Sobieszczyk are tied for the highest-ever high jump in UNK history at 7 feet, which they both accomplished in the 1970s.
"I think that would be the coolest thing to say is that the shortest high jumper to come to UNK had the highest high jump," Jackson said. "That’s my goal. I also want to be an All-American at the NCAA Championships."