BY SAMANTHA RIPPON
Special to the DM
Most people would bask in the flood of media attention that comes with being a member of NCAA track and field history, but many will argue that Sam Kendricks is not most people.
Last Monday, Kendricks sat alone, eating a quick snack in the Union before his last class — just like a regular college student. What one can’t tell by looking at him is that at the Texas Relays almost two weeks ago in Austin, Texas, he became one of five people to jump over 19 feet, and had the best jump in the NCAA in 15 years. That same jump is also the highest outdoor jump in the world so far this year.
Kendricks doesn’t take all the credit for himself, though. When he talks about pole vaulting and his ever-growing accomplishments, he always uses the term “we.”
“I didn’t do it all,” he said. “There’s this guy, a flight coordinator on the ground or my navigator over there, Coach K.”
“Coach K” has been Kendricks’ coach since the seventh grade — and he’s also the track star’s dad.
Scott Kendricks was head track and field coach at Oxford High School for 13 years. He coached both Sam and his twin brother, Tom, from the seventh grade through their senior years.
“Some dads spend hours throwing the ball in the yard with their sons,” Scott said. “I’ve spent hundreds of hours with Sam alone on the field, pole vaulting and training to vault.”
Those hundreds will turn into thousands of hours in no time. After spending last year being just a fan and mentor, Coach Kendricks was brought on to the Ole Miss track and field staff this year as a volunteer assistant coach for the pole vaulters.
In a world of stage moms and sideline parents, it is easy to see how this father-son duo could become complicated. But father and son said they are lucky enough to have found their perfect balance.
“Sometimes coach comes first,” Sam explained. “You always go home to your parents, and you always practice with your coach, mine just happens to simplify the process.”
Scott echoed this and pointed out that what he finds most beneficial to their relationship is that when he falls short as a coach, he can make up for it as a dad.
“Some coaches reach a point where they get tired of working with an athlete, or maybe they’ll give up on them after a hard stretch,” he said. “Sam knows that I could never give up on him. That doubt doesn’t exist for us.”
Both Sam and Scott said that once they step on the field, though, their relationship becomes professional and focused on the task at hand. The father-and-son personalities wait in the locker room.
Ashleigh Culpepper, a sophomore pole vaulter, wouldn’t know the two were related if she didn’t see them outside of practice.
“Coach K and Sam’s relationship is not father-son on the field,” Culpepper said. “Sam calls his dad ‘Coach,’ and Coach K treats him as if they were not related.”
Stephen Greer, another pole vaulter, said you can see Scott’s passion in helping Sam do what he loves and helping Sam reach his highest potential. In return, he said he can tell Sam is very grateful for the time, effort and sacrifices his father makes to help him.
The family factor is what keeps Sam grounded in the sport. In fact, the only way he could describe the Texas Relays meet where he jumped into NCAA history was by comparing it to the long-gone days of high school practices with just his dad and his brother.
“I knew I could do it,” he said. “I just didn’t know I would do it.”
This past weekend Sam went on to break the Ole Miss facility record and win his ninth straight regular-season pole-vault title. As for future plans, he said there are no long-term goals just yet.
“The goal is, and always has been, to compete at the highest level for the Rebels.”