Javon Graham arrived at UNC Pembroke in the fall of 2015 planning to play football and run track as he had done at Jack Britt High School.

Football didn't work out and track took a determined effort to even be part of the team.

Two years later, the 20-year-old criminal justice major is among the top 110-meter hurdlers in the nation and appears headed to the NCAA Division II championships in Charlotte in late May. He's currently ranked No. 11 in Division II.

First, Graham has his sights set on winning the Peach Belt Conference championship. UNCP is hosting the meet Thursday through Saturday at the Dick & Lenore Taylor Track.

"I'm glad the conference championships are at my school because all my friends, my parents, old coaches, grandparents, everybody can come watch us run if they want," Graham said.

Graham has a Peach Belt-best 14.27 seconds this season in the 110 hurdles. The Braves have the top five runners in the event.

"My goal is to run a 13 (second time), but right now I'm at a 14.2," Graham said. "My teammates are going to push me to run the fastest time at conference. Hopefully, I can run a 13.9."

Graham will be tested by teammates Michael Powell (14.39) and Christian Ceccato (14.49).

Overcoming hurdles

Graham had plenty of hurdles to leap to become one of the top runners in the Peach Belt and the nation.

After giving up football following his freshman season to concentrate on track, Graham couldn't officially participate in meets as a member of the UNCP squad.

That didn't stop him.

If Graham couldn't go with the Braves to some of their nearby meets in the 2016 season, then he'd get in his car and drive to the meets.

"I talked to my parents about it," Graham said. "I went to all the meets in North Carolina that were close, paid my way there. I started racing my teammates to prove that I could run with them. I was beating some on the team. I guess the coaches saw that."

It didn't start out like that.

"When I first came to Pembroke, all hurdlers lined up," Graham said, "and I got dusted. They all left me. After that, I wanted to keep competing against them. If I didn't, the coach probably would have looked at me like I needed a lot more work to do. He wouldn't have pushed me to the side, but I would have been one of the lowest hurdlers. I didn't want to do that."

Graham competed as an unattached runner in the 2016 outdoor season. His best times were 15.27 seconds in the 110 hurdles, 23.07 in the 200 dash and 56.91 in the 400 hurdles. He finished second in the 110 hurdles in two meets.

In the 2017 outdoor season, Graham lowered his times to 14.48 in the 110 hurdles, 22.73 in the 200 dash and 55.44 in the 400 hurdles.

Graham also is expected to compete in the 4x100 relay and 100 dash in the PBC championships this weekend.

"I like running those events because I want to do as much as a can at conference," he said. "The more events I do, the more I help the team."

As for the decision to give up football.

"I love football. I had been playing football since I was six years old," Graham said. "It was a change in my life, but I guess I made the right choice coming to track.

"I've learned that hard work and dedication to track has paid off."

 

Sonny Jones can be reached at sjones@fayobserver.com or 486-3530.