Thrown by Surprise
Jan. 24, 2008
by Jeff Smith
Purdue assistant indoor track and field coach Ross Richardson feels that sometimes it is better to be lucky than good in the game of recruiting. Given the recent success of his thrower Jonathan Pullum, one could make the case that the Boilermakers hit the jackpot. See, Pullum, who has claimed the last two Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Athlete of the Week awards, was not recruited to Purdue. In fact, the walk-on could barely even do just that when he came to West Lafayette in the fall of 2005.
Pullum ventured to Purdue from Converse, Ind., a rural town of about 1,000 people where he grew up as an only child. He was a multi-sport athlete at Oak Hill High School, but was quick to give up football after breaking a few bones and turned his attention toward track. One would think that sport would be much safer, however Pullum broke his leg while participating in the high jump as a senior and was in a straight-leg cast 10 weeks before he literally stepped foot on campus.
Once healed, Pullum heard that Purdue's track and field team was offering an open tryout to any student on campus. He figured there was no harm in trying, although clearly there had been in the past, and wound up surprising the coaches and earned a spot on the team.
The Boilermakers redshirted the walk-on for both the 2006 indoor and outdoor seasons. This past year, he competed sparingly in the indoor season, but managed to post a personal-best hurl of 19.25 meters (63'-02.") in the 35-pound weight throw. It wasn't until the 2007 outdoor season that Pullum began to blossom. He placed seventh in the hammer throw at the Big Ten Championships and actually won the discus title with a career-best 54.15 meters (177'-08"), which earned him a trip to then NCAA Mideast Regional Championships in that event.
Richardson attributes Pullum's early success to the focus he has had in his approach to training and competing.
"I feel like Jon has had the best focus of anyone since he has been here," he said. "He comes to practice with a purpose and is always looking to accomplish certain goals for that practice or that meet. He continues to bring a higher level of focus at practice and it's starting to show up in his performances."
The 2008 indoor season could not have started off much better for Pullum, having claimed the last two weekly conference awards. In the season-opening Purdue Invitational on Jan. 12, Pullum tossed a career-best mark of 20.87 meters (68'-5.75") to win the weight throw - a heave that was nearly five feet longer than his previous personal best.
This past week at the Big Ten/SEC Challenge in Bloomington, Ind., Pullum again paced the field, but this time against a far greater talent pool. His toss of 20.66 meters (67'-9.25") was just shy of his mark two weeks ago, but was still good enough to meet the NCAA Championship provisional standard once again.
"The season has been pretty successful so far and it's nice to have thrown two provisional throws," said Pullum, who is using his conference accolades as further motivation. "The Big Ten awards are awesome because you are always competing with a lot of great athletes. It really pushes me to get better each week and try to stay on top."
In some ways it is remarkable the success that this Purdue walk-on is having so far in his young career. Richardson says the coaching staff often sits down and discusses long-range goals for all of its student-athletes, but Pullum's goals are now nowhere near those of a typical walk-on.
"Often times with a walk-on like Jon, you just want to make the travel squad and score points at Big Tens," Richardson said. "Jon and I have gone from (setting goals to) winning Big Tens and going to nationals, to being top-three at NCAAs and an All-American. Those are things right now that we are talking about and are focused on getting better."
Richardson added that this year he is trying to have Pullum obtain both consistency in his throws and a balance in his life between academics, track and his social life. He says Pullum is not a "24/7 track guy," and while some guys "live it and love it," Pullum simply needs balance.
His talented young prospect agrees.
"Each week you try to improve and get better," Pullum said. "Last week was a good series of throws and I have been able to raising my bottom number (shortest throw), which is good. You always want to throw the big throw, but being consistent is important right now."
In addition to his throws, one thing that has also improved is his confidence. Having scored a victory in the weight throw against some of the Big Ten's and SEC's top throwers, Pullum is pleased with his performance so far. He credits most of his success to team chemistry and how each teammate pushes another. He already looks back at the intense weight-training regiment he went through in the summer and fall with appreciation, noting that one don't see that payoff until the season begins.
Pullum's season-opening toss of 20.87 meters is currently the third-best throw in the nation and ranks fourth all-time in school history. He admits that eclipsing school records would be nice, but points out that winning Big Tens and establishing momentum into the outdoor season is what keeps his focus.
He has also been able to be in a position to help out some of the current eon the team, often giving them advice on working with Richardson.
"I think in a lot of ways, our relationship is special," Pullum said. "I was the only one that came in when he first started here. I tell the young ones coming in, 'If you trust coach, he'll make you successful.'"
It's a fitting role for Pullum, who aspires to become a U.S. diplomat one day. The sophomore is currently studying political science and communication with hopes of attending graduate school and working in international politics.
"I just have always wanted to learn different languages and get to know more about people," he said.
Right now though, it seems others are busy learning more about him.