Josh Colbert had tears in his eyes after the final long jump of his college career. That’s how powerful the moment was. That’s how much it meant to him.
You can cry after low moments. You can cry after big moments. This was definitely the latter.
Urbana High School graduate Colbert closed his athletic career at Ohio Northern University by winning a Division III national championship in the long jump Thursday at Selby Stadium on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware. His leap of 24-feet-5¾ broke the ONU school record of 24-1. It had stood since 1981.
“It was a pretty emotional moment,” Colbert said. “I heard the distance. I hugged my mom. She was crying. It was cool.”
Members of his Ohio Northern family watched the final jump, as did two of his best friends, Wittenberg football players Reed Florence and Brendon Cunningham. Colbert started his college career with those two at Wittenberg and played in 10 games for the football team and ran track in 2010-11. Colbert left after his freshman season for Ohio Northern but remained close to many of his former teammates and even attended their playoff game at Mount Union last fall.
“(Wittenberg) was just too close to home, honestly,” said Colbert, explaining why he transferred. “I needed to get away. I never really grew up when I was living in Champaign, Clark County. I have a big part of Wittenberg with me, but I’m definitely a Polar Bear through and through.”
Colbert is the third Ohio Northern athlete to win a national championship in track and field.
“It’s always been a goal,” Colbert said. “I always wanted to win one in football or track. On the last jump of my career, I got it. It was pretty cool. I’m still getting congratulation texts. I don’t know if it’ll ever sink in.”
Colbert started at safety and ranked fifth on the Ohio Northern football team in tackles last fall as a senior. As a freshman at Wittenberg, he qualified for the NCAA indoor championships in the long jump in 2011, placing 14th. He ran indoor track again as a junior at Ohio Northern but didn’t run outdoor track because of spring football practices.
With no more football ahead of him, he competed in indoor and outdoor track this year.
“I have the best coaches in the country,” Colbert said. “Coach (Casey) Gantt is a jump specialist. He was a Division I long jumper (at Illinois State). I always give him a hard time about being Division I — saying he was big time — but he definitely knows what he’s talking about.
“It was all about just putting it all together. I’ve had some big jumps all year, and I fouled or maybe my landing wasn’t right or I didn’t have enough speed. When it counted on the last one ever, I put it all together.”
Colbert graduated this spring with a degree in political science and has a job in Springfield with Woodruff Enterprises. He hopes to get into local politics at some point and is also going to work on the football coaching staff of another Urbana graduate, Geron Stokes, at Minster High School.