Getting To Know Elias Gerald
The latest installment of "Getting To Know" features freshman jumper Elias Gerald from Saratoga Springs, Utah. He was named the 2022 Gatorade Utah Boy's Track & Field Athlete of the Year and won the Utah high jump and long jump titles his last two years of high school. His outdoor high jump best of 7-0.25 is a Utah 6A state record.
B.H.: Did you do any other sports besides track?
E.G.: I did Taekwondo for about 7 years and I got my black belt back in 2018. I did that for a long time; that was pretty cool. I also played basketball my whole life. I had to decide between track or basketball and I chose track. Where could I have been if I kept playing basketball? I don't know where I could've been, but I'm here and I'm pretty comfortable where I am. I don't feel any regrets choosing track, track's got me pretty far. It's a lot of fun too. Still love basketball so I still play whenever I get the chance.
B.H: Have you only always done LJ and HJ? Or were there other events that you competed in?
E.G.: The main event that I do, high jump, I didn't start until my freshman year of high school. I just did it because it looked cool and fun. My main events when I did club track were the hurdles, short hurdles, long jump and the 4x4. In middle school track I was sitting with my mom one day I was watching high jump and she was like "You know what? I think you should try that." And I was like "Yeah that looks fun, I'd want to jump on a giant mattress." So I went over there, and I was wearing my basketball shoes, and asked if I could high jump. And they let me sign up. I didn't tell my coach and just asked the athletes on the other teams how to actually do it. They told me, I did it, and ended up winning. A couple days later at track practice where coach handed out ribbons for everybody that competed and won, he pulled out my ribbon for the long jump and then they found another one. My coach was like "This is weird because Elias only does long jump so there must be a mistake because this ribbon says you won high jump." And I was like "No I did high jump. I was bored." After that they found someone to teach me high jump. Ms. Piu was my first coach and that's kind of how I started doing the high jump. I always did long jump because it looked fun. My best event though is high jump. My marks are better but the one I actually like more is long jump because I've been doing it longer. Me and long jump go way back.
B.H.: When did you realize that track is something you wanted to take to the next level?
E.G.: Probably my junior year. I probably would've realized it around my sophomore year but that was the year COVID hit so we didn't have that many meets. I always say that junior year was my breakout year because in my sophomore year I jumped 6-5 and in my junior year I jumped 7-0. I ended up finishing up the season ranked No. 7 in the United States and I was thinking that that might be good enough to go D-I. My brother at the time was a senior and signed to a smaller D-I school where I'm from. It's a pretty good school, they send a couple people to nationals: Utah Valley University (shout out Wolverines). And knowing that he did it with his hurdles made me think that I could do it with my jumps. I feel like my biggest accomplishment is getting in the 7-0 club in high school and finishing ranked No. 7. That's pretty cool and surprised me a lot. It also kind of motivated me to be better next year because everybody above me was a senior from sixth place to first. I'm thinking I should be ranked No. 1 next year because everyone leaves and I ended up getting ranked No. 1. I hit 7-2 during my indoor season which was a state record. So that's pretty dope that I got two state records. I was going for three because my best for long jump was 23-3.50 and the state record was 23-5, so I missed it by a little bit. But I didn't have a long jump coach so it probably would've been different and I probably would've had it.
B.H.: What was your most memorable meet?
E.G.: Definitely States of my junior year. That was the meet where I broke the state record and jumped 7-0. It was actually a jump-off because of one other guy who came out of nowhere. His name is Connor Saunders and he jumps at BYU now. For most of my junior year I was ranked No. 1 in the state and once at a regional meet, he bumped me down to No. 2. And I was like "Hold on." I'd never heard of this guy before. I ended up breaking the state record at the meet before regionals where I jumped 6-10.25 and after he jumped 6-10.50. I held the state record for like less than a week. I thought that season was going to be a cake walk and then Connor shows up at the last second, the week before State. The state meet is always huge. High jump was going during the intermission on the track, so it was the only event that was going on. Everybody was crowded around the side and the announcer was literally announcing just our event the entire time. It was pretty much the biggest scene I've ever jumped at. It was insane. Because he was seeded higher than me, he got to jump last and I got to jump second to last. And when I jumped 7-0 the whole stadium erupted. I hit the mat and I only knew that I cleared it because I heard just an insane amount of noise around me. Even though I've jumped higher, that's easily the biggest jump of my life. So when I jumped 7-0, it put the pressure on him. He ended up meeting it! That's when I knew, yeah, this kid is different. And it was weird because up to that point I'd never met anybody that jumped like that. But I ended up winning and it was just a phenomenal meet.
B.H.: How was the recruiting process?
E.G.: Actually, the most attention I received was through my Instagram DM. I would post about my jumps and put a lot of tags and hashtags and coaches would end up seeing it. I got followed by a bunch of coaches and they would DM me. I got contacted by coaches from NAIA schools all the way up to D-I schools. In between were a lot of small schools and a couple big schools. The top five that I ended up choosing were USC, BYU, Texas, Alabama and Texas A&M. Oregon and Texas Tech were also giving me attention. At the time I was just thinking "This is sweet,'' for track because it's difficult to get a lot of big name attention for track and sometimes big schools won't reach out to you because they don't really need your particular skill set. They might already have a high jumper or their program isn't built around a jumps program. So my value as a high jumper may be different compared to a sprinter or thrower. Getting attention from big schools like USC was really cool.
B.H.: This was during your junior year?
E.G.: My junior year I didn't hear anything. Even though I had broken the state record and jumped 7-0. I was confused. Summer of my junior year I got a little bit of attention, but then senior year is when all the coaches came. It was like a dam just broke and all the coaches flooded in at the same time. So advice to anybody who's a junior: if you're not receiving attention, don't worry because a lot of coaches like to procrastinate and look into your senior year. They also want to make sure you don't fall off. You don't want to be worse your senior year, so just understand that they're being patient. So be patient. They will come.
B.H.: What about USC fits with who you are and your goals.
E.G.: Definitely Coach [Quincy] Watts. When I came to talk to him on my visit, knowing that he was at the helm steering the program I knew instantly that we were in good hands. And I honestly know that within my four years we're winning a national championship. It's a national championship or bust. Like we're focused on NCAAs and we haven't even started the season yet. I know that he has confidence in his athletes and confidence in what he can do. Coach Watts' whole mindset when it comes to coaching is how much he values hard work. I think that's one of the things that attracted me to come to this school. They're very flexible too. So I'm a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints and one of the things we do is go on a mission where we go and serve and spread the gospel for two years. That's something that I want to do. And when I said that to other schools, they weren't really feeling it. But for USC, they're very understanding and flexible. I remember having a conversation with Coach Watts about the importance of religion to both of us and that was something I could get behind. Because a lot of coaches may be involved in just track, but USC sees the bigger picture. They don't care about just track, they care about everything else that you do beyond track. They care about their grades, social life, mental health, they care about you as a person. And that's something I also recognized and enjoyed. And to top it off they're one of the best track teams you can go to.
B.H.: Was it a hard decision to leave Utah?
E.G.: Not really. I actually wanted to go to school out of state because living in Utah is like living in a bubble. I do really love Utah and am super excited to go back and see my family but I kind of wanted to expand and see what else there is and what else life has to offer.
B.H.: What are some of the biggest differences you've seen between here and home?
E.G.: The people. Utah is not diverse at all. And here the school really pushes diversity in religion, sexuality, race, in all aspects really, and it's really opened my eyes a lot. So that's one thing. The weather is obviously nice. Honestly there's a lot more to do. You've got the beach, downtown L.A., there's always a concert to go to. That's something that's way cool. I'm a spontaneous person, I just do things whenever wherever so having something always going on is great because it always fills my needs of wanting to do something. It's really dope.
B.H.: Do you think that this new environment has brought a lot of new experiences to you?
E.G.: It definitely has. I feel like it has shown me what else there is. There's things that you can find here that you will not be able to find in Utah. It's not just the social scene, but also the events they have. Recently they had an African American Heritage dance performance, an Indigenous people event and I went after track practice because that's not something I can go to back home. There's a lot of opportunities here. The opportunity in L.A. is huge no matter what you really want to do. I want to get into media, I'm studying communication and journalism. I want to be a sports broadcaster. Like that's my dream job. And that's much easier to do (here) than in Utah.