It’s been a rather short journey for Eastern’s AJ Brooks to go from starting hurdles for the Vikings to being a South Jersey Group 4 champion, but the senior sprinter and hurdler did that this indoor season with just a year of intense and tedious training.
“I only started hurdling last winter season,” Brooks said. “The coaches had pointed out that they thought I’d be pretty good at it if I made the switch and stuck with it while they train me, and it turns out they were right.”
Brooks has continued to drop his time as he gets more acclimated to an event that is often difficult to many. He recently ran a personal record of 7.54 in the South Jersey Group 4 55-meter high-hurdle race, with his time just five one-hundredths of a second off from a school record that has stood since 1991.
The record is one that Brooks has wanted to break during his final indoor season. He still has the chance to do so, as he prepares to go up against some of the best talent in the region and state heading into the Group 4 state meet and possibly the Meet of Champions.
With his recent time at the sectional meet, Brooks stacks up nicely against the upcoming high-level competition: His 7.54 in the 55-meter high hurdles currently ranks as the fastest time for a South Jersey hurdler so far this season, and he is No. 17 on the MileSplit U.S. performance list as of last weekend.
Eastern head coach Mike Tangeman, in his second year at the helm for the Vikings, said Brooks’ perseverance and dedication to perfecting his form and technique in the recent event as quickly as possible has been remarkable.
“He’s always been a really hard worker, even during his first two years when he was doing some other events as his main focus, being really coachable and having a dedicated approach,” Tangeman said.
“He’s taken each day during the past year or so with hurdles as a real opportunity to make himself better,” the coach added. “He understands that each day he can work at things and doesn’t waste it.”
Barry Jackson, an assistant coach who focuses primarily on sprints and hurdles, has spent significant time with Brooks over the past year. Both Tangeman and Brooks say Jackson’s coaching expertise and knowledge have helped get the best out of the senior hurdler in a short time.
Having first recommended that Brooks make the switch to hurdles, Jackson said he saw great potential in the now-senior if he were to do that. It’s safe to say the move has been well worth it so far.
“I saw a young man that had a lot of talent and ability to move up, which has certainly shown over the past year,” Jackson said. “Even just over this past season in general, he’s really upped his game.”
Most paramount, Jackson said, has been addressing Brooks’ start out of the blocks to begin a race and his speed over the hurdles as he transitions from one to the next. During this season, the coach and his hurdler have also worked on Brooks’ acceleration in the course of a race.
While the senior has obviously reached great heights already, his hurdling career is still relatively young as he continues to refine his technique and speed throughout all parts of the race. But once he’s able to put those components together at the same time, Brooks will be an even better talent on the track than he already is for Eastern, according to Jackson.
“We’re still working on a few different things and trying to put them together in the same race,” Jackson said. “Once they all kick in at the same time, everyone really needs to watch out for what he can do.”
Brooks has enjoyed his early success since making the switch not long ago, saying he looks forward to what he can achieve with the remaining indoor season as well as in the upcoming outdoor schedule. As long as he keeps up with the little things, Brooks believes he will be able to put his best foot forward.
“I give glory to God; it’s because of him that I’m at where I’m at, along with the hard work and time in and after practice that I’ve spent with coach Jackson to make the strides that I have the past year,” Brooks said.
“I just need to keep doing the little things right, perfecting those things in my races and technique that can help me keep dropping my times.”