BOYS TRACK AND FIELD ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Jacob Englar, Nampa Christian

Jacob Englar didn’t exactly make the best of impressions on an Olympic gold medalist.

It happened when the Nampa Christian senior track and field athlete was in the seventh grade. He was at pole vaulting practice when he strained his right hamstring right in front of the inaugural women’s pole vaulting gold medalist, Stacy Dragila, who won at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. As if things couldn’t get any worse, he started crying and had to go sit on a block of ice.

But Englar is no longer that same kid.

He tallied 26 wins, posted the fourth highest mark in the state regardless of classification in the pole vault at 15 feet, won four district titles, claimed state championships in both the pole vault and the 100-meter dash and led the Nampa Christian boys track and field team to its third straight state title this season.

For these achievements, Englar is the 2017-18 Idaho Press’ Sports Stars Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

“I still think about it a lot. It’s one of those things when you’re lying in bed and you jolt awake and think ‘why did that have to happen? It was so embarrassing,” Englar laughed. “But luckily, Stacy (Dragila) has been to a few of my states meets and knows who I am now.

“It’s just a sense of accomplishment. When I first started out, I never expected to do this well. My eyes weren’t open to the possibilities. All the winnings and everything else has been a real blessing. I would have just been happy with the opportunity to vault. Everything else that has come my way as a result, has been an added bonus.”

Englar was only in the situation because of a chance encounter with then- Nampa Christian assistant track and field coach Bill Barr. Englar was working out with his best friend Landon Lacy when Barr walked around the corner and asked: ‘do you want to try pole?’ Admittedly scared of Barr, Englar reluctantly agreed.

Before the incident involving Dragila, Englar got a bloody nose after punching himself in the face the first time he ever tried pole vault.

Needless to say, it wasn’t the start anyone envisioned.

“It didn’t come easy to him and there were some things mechanically with him that were not there yet. But to his credit, he stuck with it,” Barr said. “But there were still so many attributes that drew me to him. He had a lot of heart, drive and determination. So I figured with those attributes, I could take somebody like that and turn him into something special.”

Barr was right.

Englar went unbeaten in the eighth grade the following year in the pole vault. But that was nothing compared to the new heights he would reach in high school.

He won 66 percent of the time in the pole vault.

The 25 wins in the pole vault are the most in program history.

And he is the only boy ever to win three state titles in the pole vault wearing a Trojans uniform.

However, the record-breaking season almost didn’t happen after an injury nearly grounded him this year. Englar developed bursitis in his right shoulder after running the 100-meter dash at the Nampa City Championships on April 6.

He still won the pole vault with a mark of 14 feet, 6 inches afterward.

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But the injury caused him to miss four meets and nearly a month of action in the pole vault.

While the injury kept him out of the pole vault, it opened the door for him in other events. Englar picked up the 300-meter hurdles for the first time in his career. He also focused more on his sprinting events, the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

He combined for 16 wins in those events.

Englar, though, returned to his specialty at the New Plymouth Invite on May 3. In his first pole vault back, he jumped 14 feet, 6 inches.

But that was only the beginning.

He won the 2A District III Championship in the pole vault for the third straight year nine days later. Englar also won three more district championships in the 300-meter hurdles, 100-meter and 200-meter dashes. It all set the stage for a memorable 2A State Track and Field Championship weekend.

Englar won his third consecutive pole vault title with a season-high and fourth highest mark in the state at 15 feet. The next closest person was two feet beck. The title broke Payton Lewis’ record of two state championships in 2012 and 2013.

Lewis went on to win a national championship at Northwest Nazarene.

“I was so proud of him,” Nampa Christian pole vault coach Kasey Lewis said. “He was ready to implode early in the season but I kept reminded him it’s not about today, it’s about tomorrow. Pole vaulting is so tough and such a technical sport so it’s hard when you feel like you’ve hit a plateau like he did. He struggled with that more than any vaulter I’ve ever dealt it. But he just stayed focused, worked hard, was patient, didn’t get in his own head and still had a great season. I think that said a lot about him this season.”

But that wasn’t the only highlight of the day.

In the 100-meter dash final, Englar matched the defending state champion, Declo’s Keegan Duncan stride for stride as they both crossed the finish line. With the result too close to call, officials had to look at the cameras. After a five-minute review, Englar was finally announced as the winner by a single pixel frame.

Duncan had only lost once in the 100-meter dash all season and that came at the renowned Tiger/Grizz Invitational. He also had the 11th fastest time in the state regardless of classification at 10.95 seconds. But Englar’s winning time of 11.14 seconds was just a tad better.

“When my name was called it was really hard for me to contain myself because I didn’t want to seem like I was gloating. But on the inside I was screaming and freaking out,” Englar said. “That was probably the craziest race I’ve ever been a part of. I was a kid that really had no business beating him. Throughout the entire season he was definitely in front of all of 2A. But I just ran the race of my life I guess.”

Following a historic career at Nampa Christian, Englar will head to Washington State as a preferred walk-on. If he makes the team, he will be coached by Brad Walker. Walker is a former world champion, an Olympian and the current American record holder in the pole vault at 19-feet, 9.75 inches.

So hopefully Englar makes a better first impression this time around.

“I’m not that crying little wimp anymore so I shouldn’t have anything to worry about,” Englar laughed. “But Brad (Walker) is my like hero so hopefully he likes me.

“I never would have thought that pole vault would open this many doors for me. It’s just a blessing. I’ve had some amazing opportunities, incredible coaches like Zack Dwello, Glen Lacy, Manny Mtika, Mauri Lewis, Tom Hickey, Kasey Lewis, Bill Barr and Eric Lacy, met some wonderful people and seen some wonderful places. So I’m really glad that pole vault came into my life. Even if it was a little rough to start.”

Brandon Walton covers Ada County and College of Idaho sports for the Idaho Press.

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