If you had told Jeff Porter four years ago that he would win a national championship, he would’ve laughed at you.
If you had told Porter at season’s start that he would win a national championship, he would have looked at you like you were crazy.
But this weekend at the NCAA Indoor Championships, the senior did win the 60-meter hurdles national championship (7.64 seconds). Porter finished .06 seconds ahead of the field, a significant margin in such a short distance.
“I was ecstatic,” Porter said. “It almost seems like a dream. I don’t even think I’ve begun to realize it.”
A couple pauses later, the Somerset, N.J., native reflected some more.
“Wow. I mean, wow. It’s pretty amazing in perspective. It’s truly a blessing.”
Porter’s time broke the previous school record, which he set just a week ago at the Alex Wilson Invitational. Just three other Wolverines have won NCAA hurdling championships, the last of which was the 1997 victory of Neil Gardner.
His first-place finish was key in No. 18 Michigan’s sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships at Randall Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville, Ark., this past weekend.
But considering Porter’s short-distance strength, it’s even more amazing he’s made it through this season – emotionally the longest in his career.
On Michigan’s first day of practice, Porter was changing bench-press weights when one of the weights came crashing onto his head, knocking out the hurdler. Porter suffered a concussion and couldn’t train for a month, significantly delaying the start of his season.
And then in November, three weeks after his return, Porter had a seizure.
“At that point, we weren’t even sure if he’d be allowed to run this season – or ever,” Michigan associate head coach Fred LaPlante said.
Porter recovered, but it was an emotionally taxing experience.
“After those two episodes, everyone was wondering if I was ever going to race,” Porter said. “At that point in time, I was just saying, ‘Forget this.’ I was considering redshirting a year. . It was a struggle fighting back.”
But fight back he did, training extremely hard over winter break. Though Porter suffered a quadriceps pull on his second return, the Wolverine still fit six weeks of intense preparation in before NCAAs and didn’t taper his training until last week.
“I still don’t think he’s been in his best shape,” LaPlante said. “He ran faster toward the end (of the season) just because he’s getting in better shape.”
And at race’s start, there was one final delay. Although it was just five minutes long (not including the false start that also occurred), Porter’s nerves started to get to him with his family in the crowd and his teammates’ increasingly intense ‘Let’s Go Blue’ chants in the background.
LaPlante sensed a unique calmness in Porter in the warm-up area, but the delay completely messed up his rhythm.
“I’m (out there) trying to keep myself calm,” Porter said. “Thinking about anything to keep myself calm. I was thinking about how I was hungry (and) what’s on TV. . I was just like, ‘Can we go?’ “
And oh, did he go.
Porter started strong off the blocks, holding the lead after the first hurdle. At that point, LaPlante felt the senior was going to win, but it took Porter a few more hurdles to realize it himself.
“At the fourth hurdle, my eyes got real big, and I realized I could win this whole thing,” Porter said. “I said to myself, ‘I’m in the lead right now, I can win this thing if I keep going.’
“I just didn’t look back.”
Yet, ironically, this is the one thing Porter can look back on with good memories from the long and toiling indoor season.
“You’re just like ‘Holy God’ that he’s won,” Michigan coach Ron Warhurst said. “It was like, ‘Wow.’ “