Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Razorbacks' Owens-Delerme a finalist for 'track Heisman'
Arkansas' Ayden Owens-Delerme competes in the decathlon Wednesday, June 8, 2022, in Eugene, Ore.
FAYETTEVILLE — Whether coming from behind or holding onto a lead, University of Arkansas junior Ayden Owens-Delerme proved he was the best multi-event men’s track and field athlete in the NCAA ranks this year.
Now Owens-Delerme, who swept national titles in the heptathlon indoors and the decathlon outdoors, has a chance to win the award as the best in his sport period as one of three finalists announced Tuesday for The Bowerman.
Joining Owens-Delerme as finalists for the men’s Bowerman — which since 2009 has been presented to the top collegiate track and field athlete by the U.S. Cross Country and Track and Field Coaches Association — are Florida State senior hurdler Trey Cunningham and North Carolina A&T junior sprinter Randolph Ross.
Cunningham swept NCAA titles in the 60-meter hurdles indoors and the 110-meter hurdles outdoors and Ross swept the 400 meters at both meets.
“To be next to Trey and Randolph, it’s some pretty elite company,” Owens-Delerme said. “I’m pretty excited about it.”
The Bowerman winner for men and women will be announced Dec. 15 at the coaches convention in Denver.
Owens-Delerme is the second Razorback to be a finalist along with Jarrion Lawson, who won the award in 2016 after taking titles in the 100 and 200 meters and long jump at the NCAA outdoor meet.
The Bowerman is named for Bill Bowerman, the long-time Oregon cross country and track and field coach who founded Nike along with Phil Knight.
“I think it would stamp my name in the history of track and field in the NCAA,” Owens-Delerme said when asked what winning The Bowerman would mean to him. “All the people who have had the honor of winning that award have grown to become legends in the sport and definitely left their mark on collegiate track and field.
“I would be super honored to be in that position.”
Owens-Delerme was in fourth place in the heptathlon going into the final event at the NCAA indoor meet and 152 points out of the lead, but he ran a career-best 2 minutes, 31.55 seconds to win the title with 6,211 points and overtake Georgia junior Kyle Garland, who finished second with 6,200.
“That was a Bowerman moment for Ayden right there,” said Arkansas assistant Travis Geopfert, who coaches Owens-Delerme. “Everybody counted him out — including the ESPN announcers.
“But the guy just competed unbelievably well in that moment and dug really deep and won a national title. That was one of the most dramatic performances I can remember in NCAA history.
“Then outdoors in the decathlon, Ayden showed he could win a different way.”
Owens-Delerme led the decathlon after the first day’s five events, then remained ahead to the finish and scored 8,457 points to match the meet record set by Oregon’s Ashon Eaton in 2010.
Going into the 1,500, the final event, Owens-Delerme had 7,709 points and an 11-point lead over Texas sophomore Leo Neugebauer. Owens-Delerme ran 4:29.54 to clinch the title with Neugebauer running 4:42.58 to finish second with 8,362 points — a 95-point margin.
“Ayden won the decathlon with a little bit more consistency from start to finish,” Geopfert said. “But he finished in the 1,500 with another dominant moment.”
After Eaton won the NCAA decathlon title in 2010, he also won The Bowerman.
“I think that’s a good sign,” Owens-Delerme said with a smile.
Eaton, who is retired, won two Olympic gold medals in the decathlon and five World Championship titles in the decathlon and heptathlon.
“Any time that you’re compared to a legend like Ashon Eaton, that’s an amazing compliment for Ayden,” Geopfert said. “What Ashton did is incredible. When you can be paired up with a legend like him in any capacity, it’s quite the honor.”
Owens-Delerme didn’t compete in the heptathlon or decathlon at the SEC indoor and outdoor meets, but he helped Arkansas sweep the team titles by his performances in other events.
When Arkansas won the SEC outdoor meet with 120 points and Alabama took second with 114, Owens-Delerme helped the Razorbacks score 14 points. He finished fifth in the 110-meter hurdles and ran on the second-place 400-meter relay and seventh-place 1,600-meter relay.
Owens-Delerme ran the critical third leg on the 400-meter relay.
“Ayden ran on the leg where he had to take a stick and give a stick,” Arkansas Coach Chris Bucknam said. “That’s not an easy place to be if you’re not there very often, and he hasn’t been a relay regular for us.
“For him to manage the pressure of that and get the stick and hand the stick off, pretty impressive.”
Owens-Delerme finished fifth in the 60-meter hurdles at the SEC indoor meet to help the Razorbacks win with 86 points while Florida was second with 77.
“Ayden wasn’t idle when he wasn’t doing the heptathlon or the decathlon,” Bucknam said. “He was working for the University of Arkansas to help win SEC titles.
“It was an offer by him, not an order by us to do it. It was, ‘Hey Coach, I’m not doing the hep or the decathlon at the conference meet. I can do some other events. I want to score points for the team.’ Very unselfish.”
Owens-Delerme, who is from Pittsburgh, transferred to Arkansas this year from Michigan. He began his collegiate career at Southern California. Both of his transfers happened after coaching changes.
“I came to Arkansas because it’s the best track and field program in the nation, and I came here not only to excel individually, but to be part of a winning program — something I hadn’t experienced in the past,” Owens-Delerme said. “It’s a different level of excitement whenever the whole team is involved.
“I think winning both indoor and outdoor SECs, those were some of the more memorable moments this year.”
Owens-Delerme’s coach at Michigan, Jerry Clayton, left last year for LSU.
When Owens-Delerme graduated from Michigan with a degree in linguistics and entered the transfer portal, he narrowed his choices to Arkansas and LSU.
Meeting Geopfert, who this year returned to Arkansas for his second stint as an assistant after being at Tennessee, helped convince Owens-Delerme to sign with the Razorbacks rather than follow his old coach to LSU.
“I entrusted Coach Geopfy with my future in the sport,” Owens-Delerme said. “I believed that he was the guy for me, and when I came on campus, he proved it right away.
“We got to work and he worked on my faults and continued to strengthen my strong events. We chipped away day by day. It wasn’t easy, but it was definitely a blast.
“It was a journey. He helped me focus on the process more than the result. He’s been a big mentor to me.”
Geopfert said trainer Deanna Prentice and strength and conditioning coach Mat Clark also have played key roles in Owens-Delerme’s success.
“Ayden’s committed to being the best,” Geopfert said. “And we have a team of people committed to him as well.”
Owens-Delerme said it’s important to him that Geopfert, who competed at Northern Iowa, also was a decathlete and understands what he goes through in practice and during meets.
“I’m extremely proud of both Travis and Ayden,” Bucknam said. “It’s been a great collaboration between the two of them. I know they really appreciate each other.”
Fan voting for The Bowerman begins Tuesday at 3 p.m. Central time and closes Thursday at 1 p.m. Central time at the following link: http://www.ustfccca.org/the-bowerman/the-bowerman-fan-vote.
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