COLUMBIA, Mo. - Mizzou assistant track coach Carjay Lyles had a challenge on his hands. He couldn't get through to Jonathan Ilori, the top triple jumper for the Tiger. Ilori had a hard time adjusting to Lyles' philosophy.
"It was hard to iron out those differences," Ilori said.
The triple jumper was recovering from a torn meniscus and was not getting along with his coach. He was coming off a disappointing season in 2013 and decided the only way to go was up.
"It was really random," Ilori recalls. "Thanksgiving break, I just sat up and said, 'we need to get this thing going.'"
When Ilori recommitted to his training, he called Lyles.
"That trust factor still wasn't there for me," the coach recalls when describing his initial phone call with his athlete. "And I know it wasn't there from me to him. I said, 'if this kid is special, I have to find a way to reach him.'"
"One of my great, great coaching mentors told me, 'Every time you talk to a kid you have to have five different ways to say it," said Lyles, a former All-American triple jumper a Tennessee. "Once we got to number five, we found a way."
Ilori also found inspiration from former Mizzou football player Henry Josey, who suffered a horrific knee injury in 2011.
"[Josey] gave me a few words and he said, 'Head up. It is gonna get better,'" the London, England-native recalled. "Everyone said it was going to get better. When he said that to me, that was really huge. I really didn't talk to him much but that was huge for me and it really helped."
With inspiration and coach's support, Ilori tied it all together. He's elevated himself into a Top 10 ranking this season and is the No. 9 seed at NCAA Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
"Florida has held on to the triple jump national championship for five years now," Ilori explains. "It's become a Gator tradition. I'm looking to break up that tradition..."