The first time he set eyes on Brandon Douglass, then a lanky freshman at Kelly Walsh High School in Casper, Kevin Williams knew.
His athleticism. His height. His speed. This, Williams told himself, is a hurdler.
But Williams had a problem: Douglass was a pole vaulter who didn’t seem at all interested in jumping over metal obstacles while running as fast as his legs would take him.
“I think I told him that doing the hurdles would make him a better vaulter,” Williams recalls with a chuckle.
“I really was against it at first,” says Douglass, who was intent to follow in the footsteps of his late father, Ron, a pole vaulter in high school. “But he said, ‘Come on, you’re gonna be good at it!’”
Was he ever right. After breaking every indoor and outdoor hurdles record during a remarkable career with the Trojans, Douglass will graduate from the University of Wyoming this month as one of its most prolific hurdlers. He holds the indoor record in the 60-meter hurdles, a mark he first broke as a freshman and has since reset multiple times, and ranks fifth in Cowboy history in the outdoor 110-meter hurdles.
An aspiring doctor who plans to apply for medical school this summer, Douglass is also among UW’s top 10 in the indoor and outdoor pole vault, heptathlon and decathlon.
The success that began under Williams’ watchful eye at the high school on Casper’s east side has come unexpectedly—at least to him. Despite ranking among Wyoming’s best prep track and field athletes, Douglass didn’t envision competing at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics, nor did he plan to attend UW.
Imagine his surprise when he not only joined the Cowboys but began setting records on the track.
“I didn’t really think that would be happening. Ever,” says Douglass, who was planning to enroll at the University of New Mexico before former UW head coach Don Yentes changed his mind. “I guess I thought, ‘OK, that’s cool, I’m good enough to go Division I,’ but I never looked at myself as being the guy in any event at a university.”
In his final collegiate season, Douglass hasn’t only been a standout competitor but a team leader who has helped facilitate a coaching change, from Yentes to Bryan Berryhill, who was hired in June 2012 after six years on the coaching staff at UW’s Border War rival, Colorado State University.
“When you step into a program, you hope you have somebody like Brandon Douglass on your side,” says Berryhill, who also coaches the UW men’s and women’s cross country teams. “We always knew, when I was at CSU, that he was going to compete hard and be a guy that you were going to have your hands full with. Athletically, I knew what we were getting. But it’s really his character. The first time you meet the kid, he just leaves that impression with you. He’s a quality individual, not just a great athlete.”
Though he admits he was skeptical about the coaching change—Douglass describes Yentes as a good coach who helped him mature into a collegiate athlete—the Cowboy hurdler says Berryhill and his assistants have energized the program. “I think everybody can sense that things are going in a positive direction,” he says.
While Berryhill admits his job would be easier if Douglass wasn’t wrapping up his career at the 2013 Mountain West Conference Outdoor Championships, he welcomes the challenge of finding UW’s next star hurdler. “He’s set the mark for somebody else to go after,” Berryhill says.
That doesn’t surprise Williams, the coach who, years ago, looked at Douglass and saw a star in the making. “I would like to claim a lot of credit. But I can’t,” says Williams.
“He’s just something special.”