First Person with … Scotty Newton
The triple jumper talks about his Olympic and TCU role models and how he challenges himself to think like a champion.
First Person with … Scotty Newton
The triple jumper talks about his Olympic and TCU role models and how he challenges himself to think like a champion.
At the 2018 Big 12 Indoor Track & Field Championship, the All-American set a TCU and conference record of 54 feet 6.75 inches (nearly the length of a semitrailer). The California native talks about why he dances at the end of a jump or challenging workout and his weakness for tacos.
What does it feel like to triple jump?
I feel like a rock skipping across water. When you think of skipping rocks, you want it to be low but you want the distance. That’s how I feel. I just flow across.
What’s in a jumper’s diet?
I want to say I’m very disciplined, but that is not the case. My weakness is tacos. In Texas, tacos are just a thing. Every place has great tacos. You have fried chicken tacos, brisket tacos. Where do you hear that? I go to taco places and say I’m only getting two, maybe three. Then I’ll end up with four. I try to find that balance of spoiling myself occasionally.
Do you have a nickname?
Our jump coach gave me the nickname of “The Machine.” This is simply because I just like to work hard. I enjoy conquering the workouts. I would work out on one of the hard days and I’d cross the line and dance. My coach liked that. I wasn’t panting on the ground dying. I danced to say, yeah, I conquered your workout today.
At the 2015 NCAA West Prelims you jumped 15.72 meters (51 feet 7 inches), a personal best at the time. At the 2018 Big 12 championship, you jumped 16.63 meters (54 feet 6.75 inches). How were you able to gain almost 3 feet in distance in just as many years?
You mentioned that jump in 2015. I would say the situation was almost the same as this previous weekend [at the Big 12 championship]. I think my want to win and my want to go farther was at its highest peak. I was a freshman and it was win or go home. I didn’t think about anything technical.
Same thing with [the 2018 Big 12 championship] — I knew I had to do everything right. I could have overthought all of the technical things, but I had to question how bad do I want it. That question resurfaces a lot during practice, during the dog days, during the good days. It takes a lot of mental toughness, especially in track. I played basketball where you have your teammates saying let’s go. In track, when you’re on the runway by yourself, you literally have yourself to say, ‘Hey, how bad do you want this in this moment?’ I think that’s what gets me to keep pushing forward, outside the hard work and my coach guiding me to get where I need to go.
You can’t have any doubt. You have to literally trust in yourself in all aspects, in everything. The mind is a powerful thing. You can think yourself into a drought. You can also think yourself into an excellent day.
It’s kind of through experience; it’s just catching on to those trends of what you’re thinking. Are those good thoughts? Do I need to be thinking that right now? Or do I not? You pick and choose: good thoughts, good thoughts only.
It almost sounds like meditating — you have to channel the positive.
You have to be obsessed with the positive: of seeing yourself winning, of seeing yourself jumping far, running far and running fast.
What is it like to rank No. 1 in something nationally?
That’s priceless for me. I would always look to those who were No. 1 — the national leaders — and wonder, what are they doing right now, what is their routine, what are they eating, how are they sleeping? To think that the routine that I’ve chosen is the one that results in No. 1, it’s … wow. I’ve been thinking about what it takes to be No. 1. I feel like I’m actually doing it now. That feeling right there, I want to uphold that mindset and possibly become elite.
In high school, did you know you were on track for a college scholarship?
I did basketball and track for some time. Then the letters flew in for track, college letters, and the coaches started talking to my dad.
How early on did you know you were on track for an athletics scholarship?
I would say from middle school. I really didn’t have any interest in going to college. I was just going out, being a kid, running, jumping. I had coaches who latched onto me and said, ‘We can really do something with this.’ By my sophomore year in high school, it became reality. I began getting letters from Power Five schools. That’s when I knew I could take this far. I didn’t even know the significance of [scholarship offers]. I was just jumping. They were going crazy [with excitement about the offers] for me. In middle school, I was the workhorse — 4×1, 4×4, high jump, long jump. I didn’t actually start triple jump until high school, surprisingly.
Was it your decision to go into triple jumping?
It was a recommendation. I was actually kind of put on the spot. We were at a track meet and the coach said, ‘We need points: triple jump.’ I said, ‘What is that?’ He said, ‘Look: Jump right, right and left and go into the pit.’ In my first jump ever, I jumped 44 feet, which was, I guess, impressive in high school. It moved me top 10 in the nation. I thought, OK, well, if we practice this, maybe this can go well.
When did you realize you had real talent and not just a kid filling time after school?
That moment didn’t really hit me until I signed my letter of intent. We had a signing ceremony. Even then, I had taken my visit, I thought I was just running track. When we had the ceremony and looking at my town supporting me and backing me, saying, we support you going out there and doing what you love. I realized I have to take this serious. I have to dedicate my life to this.
Do you remember choosing track and the motivation behind that?
I do. It’s crazy because my motivations for that was because I was picked on for being slow. Surprisingly, that’s not even my event today. We had race-offs in middle school and racing. I was very slow. I just could not build speed. I was a turtle compared to the rest. But one thing I could do was jump. I said, you know what, I found something. I stuck with that. My motivation was driven from just trying to be faster. My brother had put me on a jumping program, plyometrics, at a young age. I didn’t even know how far it would pay off today. I still thank him to this day. I was simply trying to beat the kids next door. I had worked hard enough to do something greater than that.
Coach Shawn Jackson [assistant coach for jumps] did an excellent job recruiting me. During high school, I had coaches calling and just praising me. My first conversation with Coach Jackson: ‘Hey, yeah, this is Jackson from TCU. You need to get faster.’ I’m like, what? It kind of just shocked me. All these other coaches: You come here, we’ll give you this, we’ll give you that. He [was] like, ‘We need to work on stuff.’ I’m like, I like that mindset. It kind of sold me.
What does it feel like to get a scholarship from TCU — for a school to invest in you and believe in you?
It means the world, really. Just to see the support around campus as well. Coming back from a track meet and having administration and coaches saying, congratulations, we see your hard work and dedication paying off. Outside of them covering everything, just the one-on-one, not saying, we’re taking care of everything — go do your thing. It is, we are actually invested in you as a person. That means a lot.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a college student?
It’s been so long. Thinking about life without track, it’s been a while. I like to travel. I’d probably just be a traveler. I love food. I love enjoying food. I’d just work and save up to travel the world. As a profession, everything, every outlet has always been athletic. I wanted to be in the NBA. I wanted to be in the NFL. I wanted to go to the Olympics. That was always the dream. Those were always my idols. I’d say an NBA All-Star.
Did you live your entire life prior to TCU in California?
I did not. We actually did a lot of bouncing around. We moved from Bakersfield to Louisiana for some time. It was cool seeing Grambling [State] and LSU, seeing that college environment. Then we moved to [Las] Vegas [and] seeing UNLV, that atmosphere. Lastly to San Diego. That’s actually where my parents are still stationed. I got my values and I was raised up from Bakersfield, California.
What’s the biggest difference between the people in California and Texas?
People in Texas are nice. They’re very nice. California people are more, you mind your business, I mind my business until we need each other. In Texas, one of the biggest shockers for me when I got on campus was everyone saying, hey, hi, what’s up, how are you. I was like, hi? Do I know you? It’s just the environment on campus and, even then, off of campus. I would go to the grocery store, and I don’t know whether it’s the TCU across my chest or it’s just the nature of Texas, but people are just friendly. Everyone is talkative, and it seems like they genuinely care. I’ve had people open up their homes as if I was their kid. I’ve experienced that before, but it’s someone I’ve known my whole life. For someone to meet me and just say, my arms are open to you if you need anything. You just don’t come across that in California.
Were there things you were looking forward to seeing when you moved to Texas?
Before I got here, people said there were going to be cowboy boots and people on horses. I still haven’t been to a rodeo though. I’ve heard it’s an excellent experience, and I need to go there. Hearing ‘y’all’ — I’ve grown used to it. I don’t even hear a difference now. I go home, and, ‘Ugh, you’re not even a Californian anymore.’ And I’m like, no, no, that’s not the case.
What are differences in training between a triple jump and long jump?
Long jump is more you build up to one intense point. It’s a lot faster pace. You’re building up as much speed as you can to bring to the board. In triple jump, it’s more of a controlled sequence type thing. You don’t want to just bring as much speed as you can because there are two more jumps to go after your first. You want to balance it out and control. Whereas long jump you can close your eyes off the board if you want and just let it go. Triple you have to be more aware of things, of your balance, power, height. As I said, it’s like skipping rocks. It’s that right technique. Rather than long jump. If you bring correct speed through, you can kind of get away with some technical mistakes.
Which do you prefer?
I’d most definitely go with triple due to the fact that I’m not that fast. I’d like to think that I’m fast but I’m kind of slow so it’s a bit easier for me to control and be powerful with my phases in the triple rather than to bring a lot of speed. Personally, I prefer the triple. Sometimes it varies. I’ll have a day where I like long jumping. I’ll have a day where I like triple. In general, it’s triple.
What kinds of training and conditioning do you do to prepare for the season?
Our coach works on a lot of sprint work. We sprint just as much or maybe even more than the sprinters during the fall. Then we go into a heavy bounding series which is just plyometrics. This is usually on the grass just to avoid shin splints. With the constant impact every day, it can wear on your joints. We go on the grass; we try to go on soft surfaces to do a lot of jumping, just up and down and being able to power yourself up.
Our motto in track is really, you’re going to sacrifice, you’re going to be inconvenienced, and you have to work hard.
What’s the weirdest workout your coach has made you do?
We work within different settings, but it all correlates to jumping. So we’ll have pool day, which is pretty relevant to a lot of sports. We’ll go to the volleyball pits and do something similar to a volleyball workout but it translates over to track. I really bought into my coach’s program, so there are things where I wonder what are we doing. But then I ask, ‘Do I want to be good or do I want to be great? Let’s just do it.’ I would say the different settings we’ve worked at. He’d have us run in place in a pool for a while, [around] 30 minutes. It’s pretty tough. He just wants us to get the act of movement in and tire us out for the day.
Do your teammates have nicknames for each other?
We kind of started this thing where we’re like an army. So we have the general, the chief. I was colonel. I’m Colonel Leap.
Why the triple jump? How did you get interested in the triple jump? Did you even know that was a thing?
Surprisingly, I did not. I only knew of the long jump. I didn’t really do a lot of research on the long jump. I just looked at when do I need to show up? That’s what I need to jump to win. I would do what I need to do to win. [My high school coach] really opened up my eyes in a very big way. He introduced me to people I still look up to to this day — Will Claye, an Olympic long and triple jumper, Christian Taylor. He wanted me to model myself after them. Before my first jump, he literally told me, ‘Right, right, left.’ I went home and studied film. I decided I liked the rhythm of it and it grew.
How do you know which leg is dominant?
I’m ambidextrous. I’m left-handed, but my dominant leg is my right. Whichever one feels better and whichever distance is farther at the end of the day. I jumped 49 feet off of both legs. But I broke the 50-foot barrier with the right. I said we’re sticking with the right.
What was it like to win your first conference title in the triple jump?
It still hasn’t hit me, simply because that’s always been a goal. A big goal. Last year outdoor, for the conference before this meet, I was runner-up, second place. The way that I lost was on the last jump. It was almost like it was stripped away from me. I thought I won, that I was there. Then the last jumper jumped and passed me and I got second. It was a missing piece. To fill that piece, all I could do was smile. Even when I jumped, there were two jumpers left. I was just stressing, thinking this cannot happen twice.
Especially in your senior season?
The guy who had beaten me [last year] was a senior. And it goes back to how bad did he want it. Maybe last year he wanted it more than I did. I looked at the guys and said they don’t want it as much as I do. To win the Big 12 championship, that’s a moment I will never, ever forget.
Jeremiah Donati, the new athletics director, sent you a tweet: “So proud of this guy! Congratulations @_scottyseeth.” What’s it like to receive this kind of praise from people?
It’s a blessing to me to know that all the hard work and all the dedication, not just myself, but my team and my coaches put into it, doesn’t go unnoticed. It could have been, ‘Good job and we’re moving forward,’ but it was, ‘We are proud of what you put into this.’ That right there makes it all worth it. I saw that tweet and smiled ear to ear. It’s someone they noticed. The little pieces to make the whole pie, really. The end result.
Does celebrating help propel you to your next success?
With the Big 12, how I wanted it was a new feeling. I need to get serious. I talked to Ronald Baker [’16, a 12-time All-American sprinter who holds the school record for the 60-meter event,] and he said don’t overdo it — be you. I’m just trying to continue to be myself and continue to dance. If I get out of side with what I’ve been doing, I might get to nationals. It won’t be me. I’m going to continue to be myself and celebrate it. Not too much. It’s just taking it all in and understanding what’s at stake, but still enjoying it.
How aware of records are athletes? Did you know the triple jump record before you broke it?
As a senior, I was just thinking legacy. I was thinking, how can I leave my mark on TCU through track and field. Yes, they’ll remember Scotty dancing and killing the workouts, the Machine. But in black and white, how can I leave my name here? I invested in looking at the records and the record books. I think that was a big influence of pushing me to the next level of to jump 54 feet. The position I was at conference, if I win I also beat the record. It goes back to legacy and how bad do I want to leave my name here. I was most definitely aware of it. But when I jumped it, that wasn’t the first thing that went in my mind. They told me it was the school record and the conference record and it was almost as if I didn’t know it.
Why is legacy important to you?
Our coach did a wonderful thing by sending me, [senior sprinter] Jalen Miller and [junior sprinter] Darrion Flowers to the leadership retreat with the TCU student-athlete development. Beforehand, I really didn’t even think about it. I just saw myself coming through, running track through here, setting an example for younger athletes from my hometown.
I thought maybe I could do it in a bigger way. They really stressed the importance of legacy, whether it’s on or off the track. How do people remember you? What do they remember? I often hear good words and everything, but when I leave, will my name be erased? They really brought it to my attention and I think it’s very important. When you talk about athletes who were here, people want to talk about their personal relationship with them. ‘They ran 6.40 and I knew him. He was a cool guy.’ That’s important. I don’t want someone to just say I jumped far. When your name is associated, I want it to be associated with nothing but great things, great words.
That part of the athlete mentality is interesting, right? In February at the University of Iowa, Jordan Bohannon intentionally missed a shot that would have given him the school record for consecutive free throws. He said it was not his record to have because it belonged to Chris Street, who died in a car accident in 1993 while his streak was ongoing.
That’s something that university will never forget. On paper, they could have said he was the free-throw record holder, but I think his legacy will be greater because he surpassed his own ambitions to uphold something greater than himself. That right there — you don’t see many athletes who do that, and those who do are special. You see [NBA star] LeBron James and those cover athletes.
Do you have a pre-jump ritual? I saw Olympian Jeff Henderson (USA) does something where he shakes his fingers out.
I just get into a drive position. My shoulders are kind of forward and I just breathe and relax and try to get into that zone. That’s thanks to Coach Jackson. When I initially got here, I thought it was all for style. I didn’t know it was a moment to prepare yourself to go down the runway. I would do Dragon Ball Z stuff in high school. It just looks cool. But I realized it’s more about focusing yourself for the jump. Mine is pretty basic but it gets the job done for me. It gets me into that zone.
Who is your inspiration?
Within the sport, Will Claye. Will Claye started a movement after he became the Olympic [bronze] medalist in the long jump and silver in the triple. He had doubled, which was amazing for me to watch and just inspired me. The thing is he’s very humble. I was watching him as a young jumper. I reached out to him and he reached out to me back.
He began Elevate, which is basically elevate yourself, your faith in God, elevate your relationships with your family, and just elevate yourself, your mindset. It’s a constant going up.
As a jumper, it just kind of works out. It was so special to me that I got it tattooed [above my heart]. Every morning I look at it. Even when jumping is not going well, I remember that. I continue to bring myself up in all aspects. I talked to him about it and our values went along the same thing. How humble he is for his accomplishments is inspiring. I can still reach out to him today and he’s willing to help me.
It’s interesting that you not only pay attention to someone’s athleticism but also character.
Our head coach does a good job with that. We’re at a Division I, Power Five school. We’re athletic. Now, he has us for two hours out of the day. What are we doing for the other 22? That dictates a lot for when we go to competitions.
I like to pay attention to how these guys carry themselves. Are they respected in their area, the college they go to, the people they work with? Are they respectful to them? Do people respect them? I feel that goes a long way on the runway.
Our motto in track is really, you’re going to sacrifice, you’re going to be inconvenienced, and you have to work hard. When I first got here as a freshman on a college campus, I thought, sacrifice? Be inconvenienced? No, heck no. This is college. As I’ve grown: Yes, practice plays a big part, but what do I do when I leave practice? What am I sacrificing? What am I going to be inconvenienced for to become great?
In track, when you’re on the runway by yourself, you literally have yourself to say, ‘Hey, how bad do you want this in this moment?’
Who is your biggest fan?
I can say my dad is my biggest fan. It’s funny, in high school when I first started getting offers, he didn’t realize he committed to a school for me one time. He was just so excited about the offer. He was like, yes! Yes! Yes! Then I see on social media that he verbally commits. I said, ‘Dad, what did you do?’ He’s usually the first person I call after any track accomplishment. Before the meet, he would text me and give me words of encouragement. I would have to say my dad. It’s split between my dad and one of my younger cousins. I most definitely say my dad because he’s followed the journey.
TCU freshman Chengetayi “Du” Mapaya is a national qualifier in triple jump. Did you teach him everything he knows?
Ha! I wish. Du is one of those athletes who are just gifted. It’s crazy because many times I get excited about his journey more than mine. I came in as a freshman. I see the state I entered in and where I am now and I had a lot of growth. I see where he is beginning and I say the sky is the limit. He had a huge impact on this indoor season.
The energy I carry is dancing, happy. Many times I try to cover that at competitions because I don’t want to be perceived as conceited or cocky. I try to keep myself uplifted. Du says, ‘Who cares? That’s you. If you want to dance, let’s dance.’ He’s the same way — he’s always dancing, joking, laughing. So to bring someone who reinforces that energy at competitions helps me a lot. I don’t have to feel like I need to tone it down. I’m always smiling; I’m always dancing. So with Du there, it’s me times two. It helps out a lot.
What advice do you have for him and other underclassmen on the team?
The main thing I would say is be coachable and trust the process. With Jackson, he had put up a Facebook post recently that was saying he’s a slow teacher and I’m a patient learner. There was a point where he almost expected me to transfer out. Things weren’t always going as expected or uphill. I’m a patient learner. I trusted the process even in the down times because I knew he had a plan for me as well as God.
With Du, I lecture him on this almost every day: When I’m not here next fall, it’s going to be tough. But you have to trust it. I guarantee when the time comes to compete, you will surprise yourself. So just being coachable and trusting your coach. With track, it’s really you and your coach. It can be the scheme, in football it can be the playbook, but in track it’s you and your coach. You have to trust him completely to tell you what you’re doing wrong and what you’re doing right. Every step of the way. The moment you create a distrust, you go back to what you think is right. And what do I know? This is someone who has done it for years and years. It’s really just always being coachable. I can jump 58 feet. I’m still going to listen to my coach as if I was jumping 47. It doesn’t matter.
How much sand do you think you take home in a season — in your hair, shoes, etc?
If I was to collect the sand over the four years that I’ve taken home, I’d have a little mini beach in my apartment, most definitely. Sand seems to get into places where I don’t want it to get. I have a track bag and a school bag. There are times I pull out my laptop and, boom, there’s sand on it. It’s following me everywhere. I can probably start a man-made beach with all the sand.
— Trisha Spence
Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.