Courtesy: Con Marshall, CSC Historian
It’s sad to say, but perhaps the greatest athlete to “mostly walk on” at Chadron State College has confirmed he’s leaving the Eagles.
Damarcus Simpson, the two-time NCAA II outdoor long jump champion and two-time runner-up in the event indoors, has acknowledged that he’s transferring to the University of Oregon for the final two years of his collegiate career.
Simpson said he has contemplated making the switch ever since he won his first national championship a year ago and was invited to compete at the USA National Championships in Eugene, the home of the Ducks, last June. He didn’t say much about it at Chadron State during the past year, continued to pour all of his energy into the Eagles’ 2016 season, but solidified his decision as the schedule was winding down.
His departure is a blow to the Eagles, but coach Brad Gamble says he and his staff are grateful Simpson spent two years with them, appreciates what he’s done for the CSC track and field program and wish him well as he continues his career.
Without question, Simpson has the talent to compete in Division I. Entering this weekend’s NCAA I National Championships that will take place in Eugene, only one entry—Stefan Brits of Florida State—has jumped farther than Simpson’s winning mark of 26-4 ½ at the Division II Championships in May.
Simpson also emphasizes that he’s had two exceptional years as both a student and an athlete at Chadron State.
“This is where it all started,” the affable native of Lafayette, Ga., noted. “I’ve had a great time here and appreciate how everyone has been so good to me and helped me improve. It’s just that I have always liked Oregon and want to see how it goes for me there. They’re the national champions.”
Simpson arrived sight unseen at Chadron State in August 2014 and with only limited contact previously.
He graduated from Lafayette High with about 300 classmates in May 2012. He won the state long jump championship as a junior, but, in his words, “flubbed up and placed second” as a senior. His high school best was 23 feet, 11 inches.
While he attracted some interest from four-year college coaches, none of them followed up, Simpson said, so he enrolled at a nearby community college and planned to compete in track and field. But he withdrew at the end of the first semester and “mostly just worked out” during the next year while living with an aunt, LaToya Porter.
His mother, Michelle, who set the girls’ long jump record of “something like 19-4” at Lafayette High, died in 2006.
Simpson also starred in football, playing both running back and receiver. He said he doesn’t know how many yards or touchdowns he accumulated for the Ramblers, but they were enough that Matt Day, who lives in Georgia, put Simpson in touch with Chadron State offensive coordinator Chris Stein in the summer of 2014.
Day and Stein are facebook friends, and the connection had led to receiver Antonio Thompson and fullback Robert Jackson coming from Georgia to play for the Eagles in recent years.
“Day told me he (Simpson) was pretty small, but I didn’t realize just how small he was (less than 140 pounds) until I saw him,” Stein later related. “That’s why we advised him to talk to Coach Gamble about track.”
Simpson’s arrival was a tremendous boon for Gamble’s program. At the first meet in December 2014, he tied Jourdin Holden’s school record of 24-8 ½ in the long jump. In early February, he went 25-3 ½ to not only break the record, but also take the Division II lead nationally.
Later in the month he broke the RMAC record while winning the long jump. He also was second in the triple jump, set the school record while placing third in the 60-meter dash and finished sixth in the high jump at the conference meet.
Two weeks later, he won the silver medal in the long jump at the Division II National Indoor Meet and also earned All-American honors by placing sixth in the 60. This year, he repeated those placings and won the long jump at the National Outdoor Meet for the second time.
During his two seasons at CSC, Simpson won all four of the RMAC long jump championships and owns the conference record both indoors and outdoors. He scored at least 25 team points at each of four of the conference meets.
Simpson gave one of the most entertaining athletic performances in Chadron State history during the RMAC Indoor Championships this past February. With a large crowd in attendance at the Nelson Physical Activity Center and Simpson wearing big smile, he soared 6-7 ½, a foot over his head, while placing second in the high jump.
“That also was a lot of fun for me,” Simpson recalled. “I didn’t know I could jump that high. I surprised myself.”
While Simpson is transferring, both he and the Chadron State coaches hope he can represent the Eagles when he jumps at the Olympic Trials in Eugene in early July. He noted that he wants Gamble and CSC assistant John Ritzen, who has been his jumps coach the last two years, to be at his side when he competes.
Ritzen was with him in April when he won the long jump by going 25-10 ¼ at the prestigious Penn Relays in Philadelphia for another of his CSC highlights.