Sprinter's Nickname Has a Nice Ring To It

FAYETTEVILLE -- His real name is James Samuels, just like his father.

But when he was born, Samuels' mother gave him a nickname that has stuck with him over the years. She told him the nickname would be famous someday, though she wasn't sure exactly how. It's J-Mee, not Jamie. There should be no mistake, though. When the Arkansas sprinter walks around campus or competes in a track and field event, he wears a gold ring on his right index finger that has his nickname written in cursive. Essentially, it's his signature piece. "If anything, it's something to let people know who I am when I'm in the blocks," Samuels said of the ring, which he's worn since a friend gave it to him. The ring is perhaps the only flashy thing about the sophomore, who has become the latest member of his family to become a record-breaking sprinter. Samuels is soft-spoken, and he doesn't brag about his accomplishments. But in a matter of a year, the sophomore -- who will turn 20 on May 20 -- has started putting his stamp on the collegiate track and field world. After overcoming an injury-prone freshman season, Samuels has emerged as the Razorbacks' most consistent sprinter. He holds the Southeastern Conference's fastest time this year in the 100-meter dash (10.13 seconds) and the second-fastest in the 200-meter dash (20.63). "I think it's been a good year for me, (but) I think there is more to come. As far as my expectations for this year, I have big plans," Samuels said. "(A time of) 10.13, that's all well and good. I plan to run faster, though." Samuels was named the SEC runner of the week for the third time Tuesday after he posted a time of 20.92 seconds in the 200-meter dash at the Arkansas Twilight last Friday. And with a good showing at this week's SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Samuels could move closer to following in the footsteps of former great Arkansas sprinters like Tyson Gay and Wallace Spearmon Jr. "Oh, I think he can," McDonnell said of Samuels someday being included in the same company as Gay and Spearmon. "You never know if he's going to be as good. They're awfully good, but he could be a great 100-meter runner. "I think it's not too far away until he breaks 10 seconds for the 100 meters, and then you're world-class." The No. 25-ranked Razorbacks will likely need an impressive performance from Samuels if they hope to capture their 14th SEC outdoor track championship in Tuscaloosa, Ala. They're no longer the odd-on favorites. At 5-foot-7, Samuels is shorter than both Gay and Spearmon. But the former high school running back has powerful legs that helped him make a name for himself even before he arrived at Arkansas. Samuels broke a 19-year-old national high school record in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.08 seconds, matching the American Junior Record set by Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin in 2001. Being a track star seems to run in Samuels' family. His father was a sprinter at the University of Kansas, and his mother, Robin, ran track for her high school. But for as much natural ability as he has, Samuels struggled during his freshman season at Arkansas after straining his left hamstring. "It was depressing, but I had to put that behind me and try to get healthy as soon as I could," Samuels said. "Trying to get healthy was the only thing that would keep my mind off of it." McDonnell admits Samuels was also "a little bit shell-shocked" when he tried testing his speed against Gay and Spearmon, who train with the Razorbacks. Samuels would lose badly. But the two former Arkansas track stars have worked closely with Samuels this year on improving little things, like his mental preparation before a race. "Anytime you're around world-class athletes, you're not too smart if you don't learn something from them," McDonnell said. "And (Samuels) is a smart kid; he's picked up stuff." Not surprisingly, Samuels' times have gotten better. As a result, his nickname has started carrying some weight. Just like his mother thought. "She told me one day that name would be famous, so I took that into consideration," Samuels said. "So far, so good." J-Mee Samuels Event: Sprinter Age: 19 Class: Sophomore Size: 5-foot-7, 168 pounds Hometown: Winston-Salem, N.C. Notable: Samuels was considered the nation's top high school sprinter before arriving at Arkansas in 2005. But a strained left hamstring bothered him throughout his freshman season. This year, Samuels is ranked No. 3 nationally in the 100-meter dash and No. 6 in the 200-meter dash. He's among the favorites to win the 100-meter dash at the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

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