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Feeling Right at Home

Long Island native Jazmine Fray is setting records in College Station.

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It was the kind of shove fueled by love, the kind where life's experiences take precedence over the unknown.

It was also a classic example of the old axiom "mother knows best."

"Texas A&M asked me to come on an official visit, and I didn't want to go. My mom made me go," said Texas A&M sophomore middle distance runner Jazmine Fray, remembering her recruiting trip to Aggieland. "I didn't want to come here because I was like, 'they have girls such as NCAA (200-meter) champion Kamaria Brown and (three-time 400-meter hurdle) NCAA champion Shamier Little, people like Olympians Bralon Taplin and Deon Lendore, who won the Bowerman (track's version of the Heisman). I'm not up to that level.'"

Ingrid Fray had enough belief in her daughter for the two of them. She pushed Jazmine out of the proverbial nest, which in this case was Long Island, New York, and into the real world, or at least one that could eventually include her daughter living far away from home and on her own.

"I saw the email (from A&M coach Pat Henry) and she said 'Mom, I don't want to go,' and I said 'you are going, OK, you're going. Email them and tell them you are going,'" recalled Ingrid Fray, who ran the 400 and 800 at Fairleigh Dickinson University. "She wouldn't have gotten on that plane if I didn't push her and tell her she was getting on that plane."

Jazmine did win one battle. She made the journey, her first to Texas, by herself so she could form her own opinion about a place she believed was beyond her reach.

 

Here to Stay

Jazmine Fray is in the midst of a magnificent sophomore season as a versatile middle distance runner for the Aggies. In mid-February, she set the indoor collegiate record in the 800 when she scorched to a time of 2:00.69, which also lowered her previously-set Texas A&M school record by more than four seconds.

While on the four-hour flight, Fray must have passed through some sort of time warp, because moments after arriving in College Station, she was as confident about signing with A&M as she had been skeptical of initially making the trip.

"When I got off the plane I just loved it," Fray said. "It was one of the best decisions of my life to get on that plane. I literally fell in love. I was supposed to visit three other schools after A&M, and I didn't visit any of them. I just wanted to come here."

The relationship between student-athlete, school, coaches and running has only intensified since the day Texas A&M middle distance coach, Olympian and two-time 400-meter world indoor champion Alleyne Francique greeted Fray at the airport and gave her the grand tour for the better part of three days.

And that fear of not being good enough to run for coaches with the pedigree of Francique and head coach Pat Henry, or on the same track as all the champions before her, disappeared hours after the first training session.

"I remember our very first track workout...it was hard, five 800s. They were difficult and (Francique) seemed tough, and I almost thought he was mean because he didn't say anything," Fray said. "Later that day he called me and said I wanted to let you know that was a really hard workout, and I'm really happy for you, proud of you. Ever since then we've had a good relationship and a good connection."

Less than two years later, everyone is having trouble keeping up with Fray on the track. Decorated A&M athletes such as Donavan Brazier, the 2016 NCAA 800 outdoors champion, are no longer names Fray is intimidated to train with; instead, they are her best friends.

She placed fourth in the 800 at the Southeastern Conference Indoor Championships as a freshman. Later that semester, she finished second in the SEC Outdoor Championships, the meet she had watched on TV as a high schooler with her mother and thought to herself that she'd never be able to compete at that level.

"She felt she was good enough to be on a college track team, but not on a team like A&M that has so much history," said Ingrid Fray. "She liked track in high school and coach (Martin)Brown was very instrumental in helping her, but she had an issue in terms of nervousness. For her to get to the level where she says she wants to run the mile because she knows it will help her is different for her. She is basically coming through a transformation."

Fray's 800 time plummeted from 2:10.35 as a senior at Kellenberg Memorial High School to 2:03.25 as an Aggie freshman. She qualified for the NCAA outdoor championships in her specialty and as a member of the 4x400 relay team.  

Much of the improvement was physical, but there was more to it than just being able to train year-round thanks to the warmer climate and eating intelligently. 

"People had told me I was good at track and I'd be on the morning announcements (in high school), which was good because people recognized me," Fray said. "It was part of my life because I did it. Now, I do it because I want to train, I want to see Francique, I want to be with my teammates, and I want to be faster."

Fray is getting her wish on all fronts. In the process, she is becoming one of the most versatile runners in the nation. 

 

Front of the Pack

Fray is a unique runner, excelling in both the 800 meter and 1,500 meter, as well as running a leg of A&M's 4x400 relay. Coach Pat Henry said he has not worked with many runners like Fray who are able to star at such various distances. Fray will have a chance to win a national title in front of her home crowd at the NCAA Championships on March 10-11.

Fray broke the A&M indoor record for the 1,000 (2:43.15) in December, and at the next meet in January was less than one second away from setting the program's mile mark. That same day, she ran a leg of the 4x400 in 53.56, a time that would have put her in the top 20 times at A&M and among the fastest 10 women to run indoors for the Aggies.

The effort prompted Henry to announce to the team after the meet that Fray was the first female athlete he has coached to run a 4:40 plus in the mile and a 53-second 400. The kicker was he meant he had never seen one of his athletes run those times by themselves, while Fray had accomplished both on the same afternoon.

"I think it speaks really well for her future, speaks well as an 800 runner, 1,500, miler, because there aren't many (overall) in the United States who can run a 53 quarter," Henry said. "Francique has been good for her. He is a tough guy, and I think she was looking for that."

Midway through her sophomore indoor season, Fray has won at four different distances, ranging from 400 meters to the mile.

"I look at her like an offensive lineman who can play different positions, a player who can go in at right tackle, play left tackle, a little bit at center," Francique said. "She is just raw. She has speed, she has endurance, she is just rare. We've never had anybody like her at Texas A&M."

In her first competitive 800 of the 2017 indoor season, Fray set a second school record, winning at the Arkansas Invitational in 2:04.76, only nine-hundredths of a second behind the winning time of the 2016 national champion Raevyn Rogers, now a junior at Oregon.

On Feb. 11 at Clemson, Fray shattered her recent school record by four seconds, clocking a mesmerizing 2:00.69 to set an indoor collegiate record. Fray is now one of just three 800 runners in NCAA history to better 2:01 indoors.

The time was a giant step toward achieving Francique's immediate goal of running at the NCAA championship meet, which will be hosted by Texas A&M at the Gilliam Indoor Stadium on March 10-11.

"I'm just trying to get her qualified for the national meet," Francique said. "I would like her to get the opportunity to run in front of a Texas A&M crowd."

Henry, who has coached 35 NCAA championship teams, including eight at A&M, echoed Francique's sentiments about Fray's talents, praising her as a teammate and for the way she conducts herself every day.

"Even if I weren't talking about her as an athlete, if I were just talking about her as a young lady, a student, someone you would love for your daughter to be one day, she is the one I could talk about," Henry said. "I'm serious when I say she is one if I could get all our people to emulate as a person, she would be the one. Her mom did a good job with her, helping her grow up and be the person that she is. We as coaches and teachers like to think we can help mold them and we do some things that are conducive to a different way of life, but she came in not needing that.

"And, she just happens to be really, really good."

Richard Croome covers Texas A&M athletics as a sportswriter for The Eagle in Bryan-College Station.

 

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2017 February

"It's an honor for me to give back because A&M has always been so good to me.

This is my way of telling Texas A&M 'Thank you.'"

Red Bryant
Former Texas A&M defensive lineman and Super Bowl Champion