Jarrion Lawson smiles a lot. And there are plenty of good reasons. It could be because of the way he runs the sprints, anchors the 4x100 relay or wins titles in the long jump for the Arkansas track team. He's world class in all of that.
But he's also world class in the class room, sporting a 4.0 GPA in business classes. The senior from Liberty Eylau in Texarkana, Texas does it all in unbelievable fashion, never complaining about the work load.
“Really, we just let him do what he needed to do, like he was a walk-on for track,” Arkansas coach Chris Bucknam said. “School came first. But he always got everything done, school and track.
“For our whole team, Jarrion raises the bar in everything.”
Lawson has done it it all in Mike Conley fashion. Just as Conley did in leading the Hogs in 1983-85, Lawson has slowly added sprints to the long jump, what attracted Bucknam and assistant coach Travis Geopfert to Lawson in Texarkana.
Geopfert works with jumpers at the UA, but he knew he had something when there was some training that showed raw speed.
“He came here as a 24-6 long jumper and had gone 52 in the triple,” Geopfert said. “But we cut out the triple because it bothered his knee. It's just something that beats up your knee.
“We just knew he had the talent for the sprints, too. It started to come out when we did some training for the jump, some 30-meter flying times.”
In other words, you get to full speed and you get a time for 30 meters.
“We kept getting him at 2.79,” Geopfert said. “I told Chris (Bucknam) that he can run 10.2 in the 100 (meters). He ran 10.19. It's crazy, but that's exactly what it computed. You can almost get it exact from a 30 fly.”
Lawson didn't back down from the conversion to the sprints. He's proven to be an outstanding sprinter and is qualified for the 100, 200, 4x100 relay and long jump at next week's NCAA Track & Field Championships at Eugene, Oregon.
“Jarrion's motivation was always, I want to compete, it's a rush,” Geopfert said. “And, he's very young in the sprints. He's going to keep getting better. We gave him the 100 for the first time last year and he's added the 200 this year.
“He's like all of the great ones, they could long jump but they could also run the sprints. You look at guys like Mike Conley, Jessie Owens, Carl Lewis and Mike Powell. They are all the same. Jarrion is just like them in what he can do. I've talked to Mike Powell's coach and he says the same thing when we talk about his ability.
“The jump complements his sprinting. And, he loves it.”
There is a debate on what Lawson should do at the next level. Should he specialize in something as he tries to qualify for the Olympics this summer?
“I just want to see what happens,” Lawson said. “I'm going to just keep doing it all. There is the NCAA meet, then the (Olympic) trials. I don't know where it's all heading, but I'm having fun.'
It could be that he's an Olympian in everything. A pro career will follow and who knows what Lawson should work to become as he continues to mature.
“I really don't know that he should do one over the other,” said Geopfert about the jumper versus sprinter conversation. “I think he likes all of it.
“I don't think it matters right now for him to pick. What I keep telling him, focus on the process. Nothing happens without the process. I think some want to look at the future, and it's really about doing the little things on a daily basis and keeping your eyes on the process.
“The other thing I keep telling Jarrion, enjoy the process. I think he does.”
The smile says he does.
There were lots of smiles this week as Lawson explained the night he announced his commitment to the Arkansas track program.
“I remember it pretty well,” Bucknam said. “Travis and I decided to go watch Jarrion play basketball. We really didn't know what was going to happen, but when we got to the game, Jarrion came out in warmups wearing an Arkansas Razorback T-shirt.”
Bucknam and Geopfert still get goosebumps telling the story.
“We slapped skin,” Bucknam said. “The entire team had on their Liberty jerseys and here comes Jarrion with a Hog on his shirt. Wow. I'm still excited thinking back on it.”
Lawson said he just wanted his future coaches to know when he ran onto the court, not to worry anymore.
“I had made up my mind, so I wanted to tell them,” Lawson said. “I'd gone to Academy Sports and bought the shirt. I knew they were coming to my game. So they didn't have to worry any more.
“I've still got the T-shirt and I wear it to practice sometimes. I love it.”
Lawson invited the coaches to his home afterwards.
“We were pretty pumped,” Geopfert said. “I didn't know the ceiling for him then, but we knew he was pretty good. I guess we went down there hoping he'd tell us, but we didn't know until he ran onto the court.”
No one knows if he's close to the ceiling yet. He's still hitting new personal records and climbing on the UA top 10 charts outside the track offices. It's those charts that are everything to the athletes and the coaches.
“When we got here eight years ago, we looked at those top 10 lists and they were all incredible,” Bucknam said. “You think who John McDonnell had through here and it's incredible. For a track athlete, getting on the top 10 list, or breaking a school record is everything, and it's not easy to do that here.”
Lawson is number one on the top list, for the 100 meters.
“Jarrion knows what it takes to get on those lists,” Bucknam said. “He knows those times, jumps. He knows who all of those people are and what the numbers are here.
“They walk the hallways looking. You know what, we've had recruits come here and look at those lists, and they don't come. They want to break a school record and they see what they are here. The bar is too high.
“Now, they may not tell us that then, but we find out later when they tell us why they went somewhere else. The bar here is just really high.
“Top 10 lists are the gold standard, along with school records. Ours are high.”
Next week at Eugene, it will be about points, not so much trying for top 10 lists.
“Jarrion is in four events and he's the reason we have a chance to win,” Bucknam said. “He's in a groove. I think he's excited about it. He's prepared since September for this and he's ready.”
It's time to shine – and smile.