When it comes to the high jump, Henry Clay junior Jaron Brooks is simply the best high schooler in the country.
Brooks laid claim to the title by winning last month's New Balance Nationals inside New York's Armory.
Outdoors, Brooks is biding his time as he recovers from an injured right leg. He's still not ready to high jump, but may try the long and/or triple jump at this weekend's Heart of the Bluegrass meet.
Having cleared 7-foot-1 indoors, Brooks has big plans for outdoors. He thinks he can go 7-4 this season.
Not bad for someone who, as a sophomore, had a personal record of 6-4.
He attributes his success to three things:
■ Coaches — Henry Clay's Demetrius Gay, as well as personal mentor Eric Cooper;
■ A growth spurt of "3 or 4 inches" that has him now at 6-5;
■ And "I've just got mad hops."
He first noticed pain in his right leg, about mid-calf high, during a February competition.
"It's like a stress reaction," Brooks said. "It's not a stress fracture. It's just kind of the bone — there's a lot of stress being put on it. So it just hurts from that. Just pain that I'll have to get used to."
He's hoping to be ready to high jump in the Eastern Relays, April 24-25, and has no doubt he'll be ready to go when the region and state meets roll around.
Meanwhile, he's getting plenty of attention from college coaches.
When he jumped 7-1 at the University of Kentucky, "they tried (and succeeded) to talk to me since I was on campus at the time."
Recently, Brooks was called to the office at Henry Clay because some mail had come for him — nine recruiting letters, including LSU and Southern Cal. He says former Olympic high jumper Dwight Stones has encouraged him to look at Arizona.
"I don't have any preferences," Brooks said. "Just try and go where you want to go. It's not about the program. It's about the coaches there. I want a good high-jump coach."
Meanwhile, he is able to work on his lesser events. He has a personal record of 22-6 in the long jump, with a goal of reaching 23 feet this season. He has a 46-1 in the triple jump, but thinks 50-0 is possible.
Part of his training routine is what he calls "box jumping," also known as plyometrics.
"Over the summer, I did it a lot. Probably four or five times a week I'd go to the gym and do box jumps and squats and all that," he said. "I haven't been able to since my leg's hurt. I can't put a lot of pressure on it or (do too much while) working out. I haven't done squats either. I've done pool work instead, just to kind of get some conditioning. And it helps the core, too. It helps all your muscles because swimming's fun (and) real hard work."
Gay calls Brooks "a great kid. He just wants to win. That's it, he just wants to win so the team can win."
The coach had no idea, though, that Brooks would add 9 inches to his personal best over the course of one season.
"I don't think even he knew," Gay said. "I knew 6-4 was OK for him, but going into this year I didn't expect 7-1. His first meet, he went 6-10. I didn't expect 6-10. So to get 7-1 is quite impressive."
Now, Brooks just wants to show everyone what he can do.
"People are really waiting on me to actually compete," he said. "People want to see me do high. ... I really wish I could go and jump just so I could be up there. Because I think 7-2 is the highest so far (by another athlete) in the outdoor season, and I could get that."