The Future - Scott Sellers
This article appears in the May/June 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
When Cinco Ranch senior Scott Sellers was 15 years old, he made a trip to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado to get an idea of what track and field was like at its highest levels.
After all, he had already cleared the high jump bar at 6 feet, 10 inches as a freshman. So while he was in Colorado Springs, Sellers took a psychological profile exam that Team USA administers to get an early gauge on how well-suited a teen athlete might be for world-class training and competition.
Let's just say the USOTC might someday become a familiar place for Sellers.
"He got a perfect score," says Cinco Ranch sixth-year track head coach Gary Derks, 47. "Most kids at that age talk only about winning medals and going to Olympic Games. Scott didn't even mention it. He's so well-rounded. You see, the Olympic Committee doesn't want you to necessarily be an Olympian at 17. They want you to go to several Games, not one. They want you to go when you have the maturity to handle it. A lot of these prodigies can't handle losing yet and just disappear."
Rest assured, the 6-foot-2, 160-pound Sellers, who holds the national high school indoor record in the high jump with a clearance of 7 feet, 5.25 inches, may leave the sport on his own terms. But he will not simply disappear.
The reason? Mostly because he doesn't let the fire burn too brightly. To Sellers, jumping is jumping. Jumping is not life.
"To tell you the truth, when it comes to my friends who aren't involved in track, I've probably never mentioned what it is I do or talked about jumping," says Sellers, a two-time SchoolSports All-American who will turn 19 on Aug. 16. "Track has its place, but it's not the end of the world. Track isn't my only interest. I don't advertise my involvement. If I'm successful, I don't even think about it during the day. I think that has a lot to do with my success."
And let's be perfectly clear: There's been a lot of success for the nation's best high jumper. Entering this season, Sellers was a four-time national high jump champion (two outdoor, two indoor), a three-time state champion, a 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier and the 2004 Gulf Coast Track Athlete of the Year.
But amid all those awards and accolades, one singular performance stands out. As a junior at the 2004 Nike Indoor Championships in Maryland, Sellers broke a 26-year-old national high school indoor record with a high jump of 7-5.25.
If he were to match that height outdoors, he'd tie the national outdoor record (which is recognized as the "official" high school record) now held by Georgia's Dothel Edwards and set in 1984. At any rate — indoors or outdoors — Sellers has already jumped as high as any scholastic competitor ever.
Yet through it all, he's remained remarkably down to earth.
"He's won so many different things, but I think his humility is his best characteristic," says Derks. "The Fox 26 (local TV affiliate) came out to do a feature on him and asked for a list of his accomplishments. Well, he's so low key that you really don't realize all he's done until you put it on paper. It's startling to see his accomplishments in black and white."
Sellers, who was born in Colorado and lived in Indiana and Oklahoma before his family moved to Texas at the start of his eighth-grade year, enjoyed a rather startling evolution as a track athlete. As a freshman, he rocketed from moderately impressive clearances of 6-2 to the state-leading height of 6-10 in a matter of weeks.
Even more compelling is the fact that an injury became the catalyst for his transformation.
"I had hurt my (right) hamstring in the long jump and had to take a week off," recalls Sellers, who will attend Kansas State on a full scholarship next year and whose family plans to return to Colorado upon his high school graduation. "I went to that week's meet anyway and I saw this guy jumping who really didn't know what he was doing, but he approached the bar with such speed and aggressiveness — he was really unafraid — that he cleared 6-9.
"That got me thinking," continues Sellers, who last year won the Class 5A state title in the high jump with a 5A state-record leap of 7-4 and also finished second in the state in the triple jump (48-2.5). "I could tell I was being hesitant with my speed and how I approached the bar. That was like the epiphany."
A week after that epiphany, Sellers set a personal best by four inches. A week later, he went two inches higher, and a week after that, another two inches.
A star was born.
"He's very smart, and he understands all the concepts we throw at him," says Derks. "We figure out technique together. He understands the different aspects of competing and the pressures that come from being on top. He's not just an athlete going out there and hoping for the best. We try to plan for everything. We plan for him to set records."
It doesn't hurt that Sellers is surrounded by top-flight teammates.
Senior Queito Teasley owned the state's best 2005 long jump at press time and earned All-American honors in the indoor 200-meter dash this year. Senior Trevor Gerland finished as national runner-up in the indoor 60-meter hurdles earlier this year and earned All-American status in the long jump in 2003. And junior Andrew Usoro was a member of the Cougars' indoor 4x200-meter relay national title quartet (along with Sellers, Teasley and Gerland) this winter.
What's more, Sellers is even getting pushed in his showcase event. Cinco Ranch sophomore high jumper Michael Healey has already cleared 6-8 in competition.
"It gets lonely at the top, but those guys help keep him grounded," says Derks. "He's not alone because he's got very gifted people around him. He doesn't have to handle the whole load by himself."
As much as Sellers' psychological profile off the track plays a leading role in his success on it, his thorough understanding of the mind games that take place when guys are lining up to face the bar is vital. The national scholastic leader in the high jump three years running, Sellers says mindset can be the difference between winning a meet and DQ'ing.
"It's definitely very mental," says Sellers. "You can tell by body language and facial expressions that someone is about to fall apart. If you can take away someone's confidence and use it to your advantage, that's big. If I can make a convincing clearance at a low height, it sends a message. You can put the fear in them.
"If you miss it, you have to make it look like you wanted to miss it," he adds. "And if you're not jumping well — if you don't have that hop in your step or you're jumping into a huge headwind — it's real hard to squash that urge to quit and say, ‘I'm just not jumping well today.' To win on those days, it all comes down to timing and motivation."
So far, Scott Sellers has demonstrated no shortage of either.