As the state champion in the triple jump during the winter track and field season, Unatego’s Jacob Haqq was set to enter his senior spring season as one of the favorites for another state title.
Like so many other senior athletes, Haqq lost the opportunity to compete this spring, leaving those lofty expectations unrealized. Still, he is keeping the whole ordeal in perspective.
“I’m one of the more lucky athletes coming out of this situation just because I was able to do all that I wanted to at this point,” Haqq told The Daily Star on Monday. “There’s not too much lost in my eyes, but I can see how so many athletes are missing out. Maybe this was their season to break out or get a college coach’s attention. It definitely stings, but in terms of losing things, I don’t think it’s too major on my end.”
If Haqq is fine with missing his final season in green and white, it’s only because he had already achieved so much as one of the area’s premier athletes. He made six consecutive appearances at the state meet, beginning with the spring of his freshman year and culminating in the state title during the winter of his senior year.
The run includes a pile of individual section championships in jump and sprint events, as well as a commitment to compete for Division I Boston University, where he also plans to major in physics and minor in astronomy.
So while the past three years have given Haqq plenty to look back on and likely even more to look forward to, it’s worth noting that he almost never even started competing in his signature event.
After moving to Otego from Deposit after his seventh-grade year, Haqq continued to focus primarily on basketball. While a freshman on the track and field team, Haqq said he saw some friends practicing the triple jump, and thought he might as well give it a try. The Spartans, who have since won three consecutive Section IV Class D championships in the spring, were always looking for extra ways to win points.
“It was just very much a ‘let’s see what happens’ type of deal,” Unatego assistant coach Scott Hornung said. “He did it a couple times in practice and the form wasn’t great, but he was doing alright distance-wise, so we gave it a shot.”
“Scott and I were like ‘just go and triple jump,’” Unatego head coach Mike Hamilton said. “So Scott came back over and he said, ‘Yeah. He can triple jump.’”
Haqq said that even after that, he had to ask Hamilton to even let him try the event at a meet. But at the team’s next meet, Oneonta’s Yellowjacket Invitational in early May, Haqq not only competed, but won the event with a distance of 41’-1.75”.
Later that month, Haqq won a Section IV Class D championship. Before the end of the season, the Spartans freshman was making his first of those six appearances at the state championships.
“That was probably the scariest moment of my entire life,” Haqq said of his first trip to the season’s final meet. “My best was just under 44, and there were guys there jumping 48s and 49s.”
The next two academic years saw Haqq transition to a focus on track and field. He played basketball and winter track and field as a sophomore, and said he briefly tried to do the same as a junior. But his move to a full focus on track and field was justified in the spring of his junior year. After previously finishing around 10th place at his previous four state finals, Haqq’s effort of 46’-7.25” netted him second place and state silver. By the time his last winter season rolled around, the nerves of his first state appearance three years prior were long gone.
“It was definitely a different beast,” Haqq said. “I remembered how nervous I was walking onto the track at that first one, then this year I just felt like I could run the show.”
And run the show he did, as his distance of 46’-11.25”, which was more than seven inches short of his season best, was nonetheless good for first place by a quarter of an inch.
While spring track and field typically has a larger pool of competitors, the winter state meet does not divide the triple jump into divisions, meaning competitors from schools of all sizes compete together.
“Without divisions, that’s everybody, with the city schools and Catholic schools,” Hamilton said. “That’s everybody in the whole state, and pretty much a federation title. So that’s really impressive. It’s quite an accomplishment.”
As the ever-longer distances Haqq posted suggest, the journey to state champion required significant improvement. Hamilton credited Haqq with plenty of hard work, and Hornung paired Haqq’s work ethic with the help of Sidney and Unatego assistant coach Spike Paranya as key factors in Haqq’s improvement.
Still, Haqq and Hornung both said there is more room to grow.
“At first, he was doing it all off natural physical ability, so we knew there was a lot of room for improvement just because his form was not that great,” Hornung said. “He got to a point where he was able to process what he was doing rather than just doing it. It takes a lot of fine tuning in your brain and recognition of what your body is doing.
“You look at quarterbacks in the NFL as they get better over time, the processing in their brains goes a lot faster than when they were younger,” Hornung continued. “It’s the same with him.”
“I still don’t ‘know how to triple jump.’ There’s a lot more to it than I ever expected,” Haqq said. “I thought March was my first time nailing my form. It only took four years.”
One can only imagine what he’ll be able to do in four more years.