TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Ashton Butler is making his NCAA Regionals debut this weekend, but he should at least feel right at home in his surroundings.
Butler, a freshman long-jumper for the Florida State track and field team grew up in Nassau, Bahamas, then attended high school at The Bolles School in Jacksonville.
Which means he’s plenty familiar with the surrounding area and, more specifically, the track at the University of North Florida, which is hosting this weekend’s regional meet.
UNF hosted the Florida state high school track and field championships from Butler’s sophomore through senior years and Butler still has the medals he claimed for state long-jumping titles in 2012 and 13.
“I mean, it’s my home turf,” Butler said. “So I’m pretty excited, ready for the opportunity.”
Butler, who said he expects as many as 20 friends and family members in the stands this weekend, is one of a handful of young Seminoles making their appearance on the regional stage. FSU’s youngsters will be well represented across the meet with five men and two women in their first year of competition.
That group also includes fellow jumper Armani Wallace, sprinter Edward Clarke and 4×100 team members Raheem Robinson and Darryl Haraway on the men’s side.
Sprinters Shauna Helps and Peta-Gay Williams are competing on the women’s side.
“Really, it does feel like another meet,” Wallace said. “But, then again, you’ve got to keep it in your head that it is a high-caliber meet. You have to go out there and compete.”
While the races and events remain the same, this weekend’s format is a little different than anything the first-timers have experienced to date.
The regional features the top 48 individuals in each event as well as the top 24 relay teams and, by the end of the weekend, will pare them down to 12.
The remaining group qualifies for the NCAA Outdoor Championships next month.
So, for many Seminoles, this weekend’s event features perhaps the highest stakes of their young careers. Just don’t expect coach Bob Braman to make much note of that.
“Well we try not to make them aware of it,” Braman said with a smile. “But for the most part you’ve got enough veterans on this team that will show them the way to go.”
And the FSU lineup has plenty of reasons to believe.
Helps, a native of Belvedere, Jamaica, enters regionals after claiming first place in the 100-meter dash at the ACC Outdoor Championships earlier this month, and Clarke finished second in the men’s 100-meter.
Meanwhile Wallace (second place, triple jump), Williams (fifth place, 100-meter hurdles) and Butler (eighth place, long jump) all finished with strong showings in their events at ACCs.
So each is riding at least some momentum into the weekend.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” Helps said, “because it showed me that it’s possible and I’m capable of doing well.”
Each of the freshmen admitted to feeling a combination of nerves and excitement heading into regionals, but each also said they expect those feelings to subside once they get onto the track.
“When you get out there with the other teams, it’s just like, ‘OK, now I have to go,’” Wallace said.
“When I’m around the best or I’m in that zone, it really drives me to do my best,” said Clarke, who advanced to Friday’s 100-meter quarterfinal by placing second in his heat on Thursday.
“And that’s when you see the real Edward.”
That, of course, is music to the ears for Braman, who said he’s looking forward to seeing which of his budding stars can push through their youth and rise to the occasion on the big stage.
“I think there’s a lot of hunger where they really want to be at nationals,” Braman said. “And the hunger overcomes the fear.”