Romaine Beckford making giant leaps for Arkansas track & field

Romaine Beckford has starred as a high jumper at Arkansas. (Adriana Kitchen/Arkansas Athletics)

FAYETTEVILLE — Romaine Beckford was a sophomore at South Plains (Texas) Junior College when he first did a backflip on the high jump mat.

After clearing 7 feet, 2 inches, Beckford wanted to celebrate.

“Now it’s become a signature thing for me,” he said. “Whenever I do something good, I do a backflip.”

Beckford, now a fifth-year senior at Arkansas, has been doing lots of backflips on high jump mats since that first one in 2021.

There have been backflips after Beckford won two NCAA titles and four AAC titles at South Florida, won a Jamaican national championship and a junior college national title along with victories at numerous other meets.

Beckford, 6-5 and 185 pounds, hopes to do another backflip this weekend at the Randal Tyson Center, where Arkansas is hosting the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships on Friday and Saturday.

It will be the first SEC competition for Beckford, a native of Portland, Jamaica, in his only year with the Razorbacks.

Beckford is the national collegiate leader and ranks ninth in the world this season with his personal-best indoor clearance of 7-5 1/4 at the Razorback Invitational on Jan. 26.

“I’m excited to jump in my first SEC meet, and I’ve got goals I want to accomplish that I’m not going to talk about,” Beckford said. “But just be looking for something good this weekend.

“My body feels good, my mind is in the right spot and I’m at home. I’m ready to go crazy.”

Beckford has a streak of winning the high jump at nine consecutive collegiate indoor meets — including three at the Randal Tyson Center this season — going back to last year.

“Romaine has said he’s really fired up to have this SEC meet at home, because he had never jumped in an atmosphere before like we have at Arkansas,” said Razorbacks assistant Travis Geopfert, who coaches the field events. “With our crowd and the competition of the SEC meet, I’m excited for him to go out there and compete and put on a show, because he’s such a gamer.”

Beckford said he wasn’t heavily recruited after his two years at South Plains, partly because he needed to take a class in summer school to be eligible and also with a number of seniors returning to their colleges with an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA after covid-19 canceled the 2020 outdoor season.

South Florida proved to be a good landing spot considering Beckford swept NCAA high jump titles indoors and outdoors last year, competed at the World Championships last summer and earned a degree in communications.

But Beckford said he was ready for a new challenge and wanted to finish his collegiate eligibility at a program known for helping athletes transition into professional careers.

After narrowing his options to Arkansas, Georgia and Texas A&M, Beckford chose the Razorbacks.

“The main reason I’m at Arkansas is Coach [Geopfert],” said Beckford, who is working on a master’s degree in operations management. “The man lives track and field — he has workouts written down from a decade ago — but I also know he’s going to be there 100% for me in every way.

“If you want to talk to him about life, he’s going to give you great life advice.”

Beckford said the success Jamaican athletes have enjoyed at Arkansas, including triple jumper Jaydon Hibbert and long jumpers Carey McLeod and Wayne Pinnock, also influenced his decision.

Hibbert, who swept NCAA and SEC titles indoors and outdoors last year as a freshman, recently turned pro. McLeod, an NCAA champion and 10-time American, is also competing professionally.

Pinnock, a junior at Arkansas, is a two-time NCAA and five-time All-American with the world’s top long jump mark this season at 27-4 1/2. He won the silver medal at the World Championships, where McLeod was fourth.

“It’s good to know you’ve got other people here at Arkansas from your country, and especially that they’re all doing good,” Beckford said. “If they’re putting in the work and achieving their goals, why can’t you do the same?

“I also was looking for a home. I might be here for the next 10 years.”

Geopfert said Beckford has been a welcome addition for the Razorbacks.

“The main thing I saw in the recruiting process is that he wanted to be great,” Geopfert said. “He wanted to be part of a winning team, but he also wanted to be one of the best high jumpers in the world.

“That’s what we’re looking for, too. We want athletes that want to be the best in the world.”

Beckford said added motivation for Saturday’s high jump is that several SEC programs passed on the chance to recruit him at South Plains.

“I’m not naming them, but there were a lot of SEC schools I reached out to that didn’t want me,” he said. “So my goal is to always beat their athletes, to show them what they missed because they didn’t believe in me.

“I’m like, ‘OK, you’re going to be here? I’m going to beat you.’ ”

Beckford said when he was at South Florida, there were athletes at programs in major conferences who took shots at him on social media for being at an AAC school.

“Before I won indoor nationals, there were a lot of people on Snapchat and Instagram that said I could only win my small conference, that’s all I was good for,” Beckford said. “So I said, ‘I’m going to do it big, so you’ll see and take back your words.’ ”

Geopfert smiled when asked about Beckford’s desire to prove himself to coaches and competitors who might have doubted his ability.

“Oh, he’s got a chip on his shoulder for sure,” Geopfert said. “It’s fun to coach guys that have that edge and feel like they have something to prove.

“When Romaine conquers a stage, he wants to go to the next one. He’s never satisfied.”

Beckford stressed he’s confident going into the SEC high jump, but not cocky.

“The competition is going to be good, you can’t count anybody out,” he said. “Nobody thought about me until I did something. So I respect everyone and I’m staying humble.”

Beckford said that when he does backflips, he never worries about hurting himself. He’s been doing them since he was in elementary school.

The backflips don’t concern Geopfert either.

“I think if you do something good, you should celebrate,” Geopfert said. “Go be you, man. If we’re not having fun, it’s not worth our time, right?

“I don’t ever condone taunting or anything like that, but I think you’ve got to celebrate the victories.”