When he arrived at Michigan two years ago, Erik Braun thought it was going to be easy.

Braun, now a redshirt sophomore on the Michigan men’s track and field team, had been an all-state sprinter and star multi-sport athlete in high school, so he was confident he could excel in the college ranks. In his first year, he expected a spot on the 4×400-meter relay team, at the very least.

But during winter break that first year, after Michigan coach Fred LaPlante had told him he would be competing that season, Braun dislocated his shoulder in a freak snowmobile accident and had to be redshirted. Things started to go downhill.

The following year, Braun was plagued by hamstring injuries and, even when healthy, didn’t play a prominent role in the team’s sprint events.

“He definitely had a few injuries and then we saw some of his limitations on the absolute speed side,” LaPlante said this week of Braun’s redshirt freshman season.

This year, Braun decided to try something different.

“I felt like track hadn’t really worked out for me so far in my college career,” Braun said. “I just really wanted to contribute to the team.”

A few months into this season, LaPlante met with Braun and asked him where he saw himself performing that season. Braun responded that he pictured himself as a triple jumper and could help the team in that way.

Braun had dabbled with the triple jump in training, but only began taking the event seriously in November.

“I was discouraging to him initially (regarding the switch),” LaPlante said. “I felt like with his shoulders and hamstrings, I didn’t see that being a good option for him. But he’s passionate about it.”

LaPlante relented and Braun began to work with field events coach Mo Saatara on a regular basis. Braun’s bi-weekly training in the triple jump turned into a full-time routine.

“I believed I could be good because I related it to something I could do in basketball,” Braun said. “In high school, my coach expected me to take two dribbles between each of the baselines and lay it up.”

Braun said the long, bounding strides translated well from basketball and helped ease the transition from sprints to the triple jump.

But even his experience in track, basketball and football at Pinckney Community High School couldn’t fully prepare him for what he has had to do with the triple jump this season.

“It’s one of the most athletic events you could do,” Braun said. “To be able to cycle in the air and come down and distribute your energy in a way that will propel you forward while also pushing yourself upwards is definitely a difficult thing for an athlete to do.”

But Braun credits much of his development to a fellow jumper.

“I’ve got a great training partner in (junior) Robert Peddlar, and I’ve learned a lot from him,” Braun said. “He truly is a genius and he amazes me in practice. Someday, I hope I get to his level.”

Peddlar, who has won a Big Ten title in the long jump, has jumped 50 feet and four inches in the triple jump.

So far this season, Braun has taken ownership of his new event. He placed first in the Eastern Michigan Invitational Jan. 8 after jumping 45 feet and five inches. Two weeks later, he set a personal record in the Simmons-Harvey Invitational, taking third place with a jump of 46 feet and three and one-half inches.

But knowing that he is still new to the event, Braun doesn’t want to get ahead of himself in terms of goals.

At the beginning of the year, LaPlante asked the team to read “Bo’s Lasting Lessons” — the autobiography of former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler. Braun said that after reading it, he realized that goals need to be attainable.

Instead of setting a conference championship as his personal goal, he hopes to able to contribute to the team points total in the Big Ten Championships on Feb. 26-27. However, in this meet, a jumper usually has to jump past 50 feet to place and score points.

“That’s one of the biggest things that embodies a ‘Michigan Man,’ ” Braun said. “It’s not all about being a Big Ten champion. At the end of the day, every point counts and every point matters and it adds to the team total.”

Added LaPlante: “You never want to put limits on what a guy might be able to do. He’s a very good competitor, so I don’t rule things out for him as far as being a scorer.”

Even as he finds his niche in the triple jump, Braun still feels the itch to return to his first love — sprinting. He said that his rigorous training in the triple jump has given him the explosiveness that can make him a better sprinter than before.

LaPlante can see this happening, citing the possibility of Braun contributing on one of the relay teams.

“He’s very attentive and would do well with the baton,” LaPlante said. “I’m satisfied with the direction he’s going. I wouldn’t rule anything out.”

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