Feb. 9, 2012
Vol sophomore Chase Brannon is doing so well in the pole vault this season, one would never surmise that he came to the program as a walk-on out of Brentwood Academy.
Brannon, who hails from the city of Brentwood, Tenn., joined the team in 2010 and redshirted his first year. Since his first collegiate meet last season, his personal record has increased by nearly two feet, and he is now the top indoor pole vaulter for Tennessee this season. He ranks No. 3 in the Southeastern Conference at 17-5 ½ and is tied for 14th nationally.
With only one meet left before the Southeastern Conference Championships, Brannon has just two chances to solidify his spot in the top 14 nationally to ensure a trip to the NCAA meet in Nampa, Idaho, March 9-10.
When did you first decide to try pole vaulting?
"It was toward the end of my eighth-grade year. I wasn't that good at playing baseball, so I decided to try pole vault because my dad did it."
How do you learn to do it? What's the training process?
"You start out on a really short pole. I was really slow at the time, too. You slowly work your grip up an inch at a time until you can start bending the pole. There are some techniques on that that I'm working on, but ultimately you want to jump as high as the world class guys."
When did you start training seriously?
"In high school, I was always a pole vaulter and a wrestler, so I was always split on that. When I came here, that's when I really started focusing on vault only."
Have you competed in other sports or track & field events?
"In high school, it was just wrestling and track. In middle school, I played baseball for a little bit. And now it's just pole vault."
What's your favorite thing about vaulting?
"I'd say jumping your personal best, and the ride down after you make the bar is the greatest feeling in the world."
Your PR has improved a foot from last year to this one. That seems like a big jump really fast. How did you achieve that?
"I started doing all the little things right, like my diet, my sleep schedule, and my supplements. I just really trained well and was fortunate not to get injured at all so I could train as hard as I wanted to."
You are in a group of four pole vaulters here at UT who have topped 17 feet. What's it like being in a group of that caliber? Are you all competitive and how do you get along?
"It feels good. We want to be the best group in the nation. I think we have an argument for that. We're just going to keep pressing and keep adding to our heights so we can be the outright best in the nation. We all get along, but we all want to beat each other so bad every day, so it makes you train really well. You don't want to lose to your friend and teammate."
You walked on to the team, won the Herb Neff Walk-On Award last season and are the top performer in the vault for UT this indoor season. How does that feel?
"It feels good. It feels like I worked hard to get to where I am now. I've still got a ways to go, but it feels good to go from just barely making the team to being the best."
Is there any particular meet (other than SECs and NCAAs) that you are looking forward to this season?
"I'm looking forward to UCLA, because last year I no-heighted there. I want to redeem myself there."
You've had top-ten finishes in every meet so far this season. Are you pleased with your results?
"I'm pleased. I would have liked to place higher at New York. I wanted to win all the meets, and I've only won one. But I have a high goal, so I can't complain so far."
Do you have any pre-vault or pre-meet superstitions or rituals?
"I try not to be superstitious, because I don't want to have that in my mind, that "If I don't do this, it'll affect my jump." I just like to listen to some pump-up music, mostly rap before a meet, and eat the right stuff at a certain time. I don't want to eat too close to the meet or to warm-ups. I do the best I can."
Do you get nervous before you vault? How do you deal with that?
"I do. I find that if I'm not nervous, I don't compete as well. I kind of embrace the nerves and try to use it to my advantage."
What do you like to do in Knoxville when you aren't in class or training?
"I just like to hang out with my teammates when we aren't training. It's fun to just play Xbox or watch a movie or just relax when we have time."
If you could do any other track & field event besides pole vault, what would it be?
"It would be javelin. I've actually been training javelin in the off-season, and I think I'm going to throw in a few meets outdoors. We'll see how that goes."
What is your favorite sport to play, or just watch, other than running?
"I like to watch football. I prefer the NFL over college because it's easier to follow players. They aren't leaving their teams to go to the NFL; they'll be there for a while. And they're the best of their sport. The Tennessee Titans are my favorite team. I was in third grade when they became the Tennessee Titans and moved to Nashville, so ever since then I've been a fan."
Who are athletes you admire?
"Dan Gable, the Olympic champion wrestler. He was a product of hard work, so you have to admire that. I always looked up to him. In the pole vault, (former Vol) Tim Mack, because he only jumped 13-6 in high school and ended up setting the Olympic record and is a top-12 all-time jumper in the history of the world. I really admire that, too, and he's a UT grad."
Since he's still in Knoxville, do you get to work with him?
"We see him sometimes, coaching some other kids. We probably see him once a week."
Do you have any nicknames?
"Not really. I usually end up giving all of my friends nicknames, but they never give me any."
What is something interesting about you that people may not know?
"I originally wanted to wrestle in college. I thought it was my better sport. I always thought that was what I'd do in college, but now I'm pole vaulting."
What is the one thing you can't live without?
"My family. I wouldn't be where I am without them. They always support me and help me out in any way they can. I get to see them in the off-season, when I try to go home once a month. In season, it's kind of hard, because we're gone almost every weekend."
What would be on the dinner table and who would be there if you were having your favorite kind of meal?
"Because it's my birthday tonight (Feb. 8), I'm going to my favorite Japanese restaurant and eating hibachi style. And I'd want to be around good friends or family."
What do you think about before and during a jump?
"Before, I mainly think about what Coach Russ Johnson just said, and I try to apply it. Then I just try to make the bar at all costs."
What are your goals and expectations for the season?
"I want to be the SEC champion indoors and outdoors. Right now, the main goal is to jump an NCAA mark to get me in so I can be top eight and be an All-American. They take about 14 pole vaulters, and right now I'm tied for 14th, so I'm last in, and I need to jump a little higher to secure my spot there."