By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 9, 2011
YPSILANTI, Mich. — It took a Locomotive to stop sprinter Justin Clarke. Bradley James put himself in elite company, getting over seven feet in the high jump. Shot putter Cody Riffle wrote his name into the Michigan record books.
With only four seniors to provide leadership, one might expect the Michigan men’s track team to struggle to find its footing early in the season. However, with the help of their freshmen teammates, the Wolverines’ underclassmen dismissed that idea on Saturday. Thirteen athletes made their NCAA debuts, contributing to the successful showing at the Eastern Michigan Invitational — the first indoor meet of the season.
“We had a number of freshmen that had good performances,” Michigan head coach Fred LaPlante said. “No matter what the size of the meet is, the first time you put on a block 'M' uniform and you’re competing against people, it’s definitely a test. I think those guys really performed well.”
Michigan’s young team members helped the team win six of the 11 events it competed in. The Wolverines would have won two more events if not for non-collegiate competitors who used the event for training. Distance runners were held out of the unscored competition.
One of the most eye-opening performances of the day was delivered by freshman sprinter Justin Clarke in the 60-meter dash. Though he finished third — in 6.88 seconds — he was pitted against tough competition. Michael Ray Garvin, who won the race, was a seven-time All-American sprinter at Florida State and spent time as a wide receiver with the Detroit Lions. He currently plays for the UFL’s Las Vegas Locomotives. Former Central Michigan All-American Johnie Drake took second.
“If you’re a freshman and the first time you line up, that’s what you’re running against, that’s a strong field,” LaPlante said. “But he held his own.”
Among the athletes who took first place, two were freshmen, while two others were part of the winning 4x400 meter relay team.
Redshirt freshman jumper Bradley James won the high jump — clearing the bar at seven feet and one-half inch — which earned the praise of his coach.
“If you’re over seven feet, that’s the big time and he cleared that height by quite a bit,” LaPlante said. “That’s really impressive for a first competition.”
Freshman thrower Cody Riffle made waves in his first college meet, winning the shot put with a throw of 59 feet and three-quarters inches. That distance was good for the second longest toss in school history.
Freshman runners Ali Arastu and Eric Oliver helped win the 1600 meter relay along with seniors Carl Buchanon and David St. Amant. In the 35-pound weight throw, freshman Ethan Dennis placed second with a throw of 60 feet and eleven and one-half inches. He, too, lost to a non-collegiate competitor.
And in the triple jump, former sprinter and sophomore Erik Braun won his first meet in the event.
“Coach saw me one day at practice and thought I was really explosive," Braun said. "We were joking around with each other, and I said, ‘What are you going to have me doing next, triple jump?’ He was like, ‘Actually, why don’t you look at triple jump this week.’ ”
A season later, Braun is one of Michigan’s top jumpers.
“I thought I was going to do well, but I didn’t know about this well,” Braun said. “My prayers definitely came true.”
Next weekend, Michigan will head to Columbus to take on Ohio State in track and field's version of the rivalry dubbed, “The Dual.”
“When you’re against Ohio State, they’ll have your attention,” LaPlante said. “We have to be better next week than we were this week in everything. There’s no area that we don’t have to improve in.”