Coming of age as a track star in Colorado, Paul Hubbard set his sights on an athlete four years his senior. He never faced Chavous Nichols, but he knew all about him.
"He and I had the same summer coach," Hubbard said. "I told him a long time ago I was going to come and get him. I broke most of his records at home so I'll try to come and get him out here."
Hubbard, a freshman at Wisconsin, and Nichols, a senior at Penn State, are among the favorites to win the long jump and triple jump at the Big Ten Men's Outdoor Championships, which take place Friday through Sunday in West Lafayette, Ind.
The Badgers are heavily favored to take the team title, thus completing their sixth Big Ten Triple Crown (titles in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track) in 10 seasons.
Hubbard also has a title defense on his mind. Despite having never competed in indoor track before enrolling in college, he won the long jump at Big Ten Indoor Championships earlier this year with a leap of 24 feet, 4 ¼ inches.
Nichols, though, did not compete in the indoor season, having exhausted his eligibility the previous year. He redshirted one outdoor season, however, and currently holds the second-best mark among Big Ten athletes in both the long jump (25-0 ¾) and the triple jump (53-4 ½). Indiana junior Aarik Wilson enters the meet ranked No. 1 in both events (25-4 ¼, 55-3 ½). Hubbard is tied for fourth in the long jump (24-5 ¾) and is fifth in the triple jump (50-5 ¼).
"I'd better call my coach this week," Hubbard said. "My coach is going to be really excited because we haven't really gotten to jump against each other ever."
Nichols was a state champion in each event while attending Fountain-Ft. Carson High School in Colorado. And Nichols' top marks in the long jump (24-0) and the triple jump (49-0) became targets for Hubbard. He outdistanced Nichols' long jump by a mere quarter of an inch but obliterated his triple jump with a 52-7.
"I've just been chasing around in his shadow," Hubbard said. "Now I get to meet him."
Hubbard, who attended Widefield High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., won state and national prep titles in 2002 and 2003 in the long jump and the triple jump. Still, he did not expect the level of success he has enjoyed so quickly at Wisconsin, especially in indoor track.
"I wasn't expecting that at all," said Hubbard, referring to his indoor long jump title. "I was expecting maybe to be able to compete with the top guys in the outdoor season because I'm used to it…So I was quite shocked."
Now, Hubbard readily anticipates challenging Nichols and Wilson.
"Indoor season I was still trying to recover from my football workouts," said Hubbard, who walked on to the Badger football team as a receiver last fall. He had a track scholarship this year but will go on a football scholarship while continuing to compete in track next year. "So I wasn't really in track shape. But now I've been out here working with the track and field team. I've gotten in shape. And I've gotten a little faster, so that always helps in long jump."
Hubbard has surpassed his top prep mark in the long jump by nearly a half a foot, but is far below his mark in the triple jump. In high school, he succeeded on raw talent. At Wisconsin, he has had to learn the fundamentals, which has held him back from turning it loose.
"I can't compete at the college level using the same techniques I used in high school. It just wouldn't work," Hubbard said. "I feel like I've got it down now. Not concrete down, but I've got it to the point where I can actually turn some heads in the triple."
Hubbard said he feels he will hit his stride at the NCAA Mideast Regional in two weeks, where he will get a second shot at Chavous Nichols.
In addition to his leaping exploits, in high school Hubbard was also on the 400- and 1,600 meter relay teams, but he did not sprint this spring until assistant coach Mark Napier felt it would be good for training.
A disappointing trip to the Texas Relays in early April prompted Napier to add more sprint drills to the jumpers regimen. And three weeks later, Hubbard was asked to run an open 100 meter-dash at the Loras Invitational in Dubuque, Iowa, "just to stay in shape," Hubbard said.
"And I go out there, I've never done the open 100, never come out of blocks before," Hubbard said.
Call it beginner's luck if you will, but on that first day out of the blocks Hubbard ran a 10.66, the fourth-best time on the team this season. He has since performed with the 400 relay team at a few meets and he could represent the Badgers in the event this weekend.
Hubbard's focus, though, will be on using his speed to leap towards potentially two more conference titles, all the while scoring points for the Badgers' team cause.
"The team, we're amped," he said. "We're ready to go out there and get it. It really comes down to the fact that we need to beat Minnesota. Because Minnesota is our main rivalry out here in the outdoor as well as the indoor."
Wisconsin won the indoor title with 174.5 points, while the Gophers finished second with 122.
"Minnesota's looking to get us," Hubbard said. "Because the indoor season we blew all those teams out. They're ready to come out and compete. So we're just trying to stay focused and do what we need to do. If we get the job done, there's no way that we shouldn't win. That's the way we feel around here."