In the Texas Tech track and field program’s star-studded signing class 14 months ago, one of the highlights was landing Brandon Bray, a pole vaulter who set two national records for his age group.
The freshman from China Spring wasted no time showing his skills are transferable.
When Tech opened the season two weeks ago, Bray won the pole vault at the Arkansas Invitational, clearing 17 feet, 23/4 inches, and last week he cleared 17-5, good for second place at the Texas A&M Quadrangular.
He’s not putting limits on what he might achieve as a college freshman.
“I think I can compete with anyone,” Bray said this week. “That’s just the mentality that my dad raised me with.”
Bray and the Red Raiders are back at it with two consecutive weekend trips to Albuquerque for the New Mexico Team Invitational on Saturday and the New Mexico Collegiate Classic Feb. 5-6.
Bray, a two-time UIL state champion, set national records for 16-year-olds when he went 17-6 and for 17-year-olds when he cleared 17-81/2. The latter came at the 2014 UIL state meet in Austin. So he’s settling into college competition by reaching heights to which he was accustomed on a smaller stage.
“That’s helped a lot,” he said. “I want to go higher, though. I want to try that this weekend.”
That’s sort of expected, given his family background. Bray’s father, Jeff Bray, was a three-time all-American and a six-time conference champion in the pole vault from 1991-94 at Florida State, where he’s a member of the university’s hall of fame. A Florida State bio bills the elder Bray as the finest pole vaulter in Atlantic Coast Conference history, and he was named to the 50th anniversary ACC indoor track and field team in 2003.
He set FSU and ACC records outdoor (18-61/2) and indoor (18-01/2).
So when Brandon Bray picked up a pole in sixth grade, he had some ready made coaching.
“He didn’t really encourage me to do it,” Bray said. “He wanted to make sure I liked it first. In sixth grade, he didn’t coach me, really. He just kind of let me mess around with it.
“And then whenever I got into junior-high track, he coached me and that’s really when I kind of fell in love with it, and he realized that. He wanted to help as much as he could with the journey, to be as good and better than he was in high school and college.”
Jeff Bray set high school records of his own in Elk City, Oklahoma, his best being 17-7, before going to Florida State. He coached the vaulters the last nine years at China Spring, a Class 4A school 13 miles northwest of Waco. Another vaulter Jeff Bray coached was Kyal Meyers, who also came to Texas Tech and won a Big 12 title and twice made second-team all-America from 2011-14.
With Brandon having graduated, his father recently moved to Waco High School.
“It helps a tremendous amount, honestly,” Brandon said, “because he’s been through everything I’m going through. If I have any questions like, ‘How do I focus on this?’ ‘How can I do this?’ ‘How can I get motivated before every jump?’ Then he has a very good answer that helps out a lot.”