JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
BURNET — Conversations with teammates led Burnet High School senior Joel Holland to the high jump pit.
A love for the event resulted in landing a spot on the Abilene Christian University track-and-field team.
Holland signed his letter of intent to high jump for the Wildcats on April 18 after accepting an academic scholarship to the university.
His personal best is 6 feet 4 inches, and ACU coached told Holland that if he clears 6-8, they’d award him a track-and-field scholarship.
“They came with the most interest,” Holland said. “When I met with academic advisers, I met with the track coaches. They were friendly and nice. They offered me a spot on the team.”
Holland will enter the university with 27 college hours already and has a grade-point average of 3.6.
High jumping wasn’t something he was looking to do, he said, but he was convinced to wander to the high jump pit last year after talking to his basketball buddies, particularly senior point guard Caelin Graves, who noted Holland’s vertical jump.
While there, he tried to clear the bar and found some success. Coaches put him on the team, and he has steadily improved.
“I never really excelled in any other sports. I lagged behind,” he said. “I suffered three concussions in football, so I had to find something else. If you live here, you try to do your best in whatever sport you play.”
Holland also credits his high jump coach, 1996 Olympic gold medalist Charles Austin, for training him the past several months.
He has gotten close to clearing 6-6 but notes high jumping isn’t all about being physically capable.
“It’s more of a mental and muscle memory,” he said. “As the bar raises high, you have to sky high in the arc. Fundamentally, you have to be prepared and mentally tough.”
Burnet coaches noted Holland’s consistency in the event.
Head track-and-field coach Justin Marcellus said he remembered watching Holland a year ago when the coach was at Burnet Middle School. He thought the Bulldog would be a great track-and-field athlete.
“It’s been great week in and week out,” he said. “You can always count on him for 10 points a meet. He won every meet except district.”
Holland finished second in District after clearing 6-2.
Jumping coach Jerod Rye said when it came to Holland, he had one duty.
“My biggest task is making sure Joel is on the bus going to meets,” he joked. “He’s worth 10 points every meet. High jump is no different than anything else athletically. If you put time and energy and focus into something, you’re going to be successful. It’s rare in sports that, going in, you feel like you’re going to win, but we felt that was the case in the high jump.”
The son of Matt and Clairissa Holland will major in business and minor in music with the aim of becoming a talent agent.
“I have always taken an interest in music,” Joel Holland said. “My father and I bonded over music. We go to concerts all the time.”