Russell Jones had always liked jumping, so when he first heard about the high jump in the seventh grade, he knew he had found his calling.
At 5-foot-8, the Hephzibah senior might not seem to be a likely challenger in the high jump, but he's found success as he competes in the GHSA Class AAA boys state track and field meet in Jefferson, Ga., starting today.
"All my life I wanted to jump high," Jones said. "And I knew I had a good chance to be real good in it."
Jones qualified for state by posting a 6 feet, 2 inches in the event at the region championship in Burke County, which Washington County won with its 118.5 team score. Jones is one of two Rebels to make state, with Levonte Reddick participating in the 400 meters.
Jones is just one of many area athletes vying for state titles.
Jones, who is looking at Savannah State, Paine and other schools for college, practices five days a week as he hopes to beat his personal best of 6-4 by jumping 6-6.
He isn't overly concerned where such a jump will place him, however. He's more focused on reaching a personal best.
Jones' father remembers his son hopping around when he was younger, so he thought it made sense to try high jumping.
Jones started winning right away, as he captured his first event in middle school.
He continued to improve, later posting his career-best score at region his sophomore year.
Two years later, Jones looks to jump even higher in his last high school competition.
"To close it out with another state meet means a whole lot to me," Hephzibah coach Richard Jones said.
While the Rebels' high jumper sets his sights on a personal best, Burke County is hoping to return to the top.
The Bears won the state crown in Class AAA in 1999, and coach Purvis Dukes thinks this team is close to winning another title.
"They just got to carry on with the same attitude and work ethic," Dukes said. "We're definitely making strides."
Junior Montres Kitchens is running in a team-best four events, with the triple jump his favorite.
"It's just the feeling you get when you're running down the track -- you feel like you're flying," Kitchens said.
Kitchens placed in two events in last year's state meet, finishing seventh in the long jump and fifth in the triple jump. He won the region's long jump title in April.
Though he's battled through a quad injury, he's adamant it won't hurt his efforts this year.
Burke County has had to run without Devin Beverly, who broke both ankles in a car accident. Beverly was a runner on the 4 x 100-meter relay team but had to be replaced by Orlando Howard.
Not only did Howard run the first leg of the event at the region meet, but he helped the Bears qualify by finishing in second place behind Grovetown.