East Xtra: Woodland Hills junior takes big leap of faith

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It's nothing new for Woodland Hills track coach Paul Beard to blurt out something like "Boy, is this kid special" when watching junior standout Isaiah Brooks race down the track or take flight on a jump.

"We said that even in ninth grade," Beard said, laughing.

Brooks often puts people in awe simply by the fact that they don't come across an athlete of his caliber every day. Versatility is one of the most glaring traits of Brooks' track abilities, as he excels in sprints and jumps.

Brooks, a Turtle Creek resident, is among the best in the WPIAL in the 200- and 400-meter dashes, as well as the long jump and triple jump.

His 200 time of 22.39 seconds at the Latrobe Wildcat Invitational and again at last Friday's Baldwin Invitational is the second fastest in the WPIAL this season behind Central Catholic's Ron George (22.28). Brooks is the defending WPIAL Class AAA champion in the long jump and also holds the school record in the event. His top mark in the triple jump is the second best in school history.

"He works very hard," Beard said. "He does the workouts and does some extra stuff. And he's a very good athlete overall. He's very well-rounded."

As far as the events in which he competes, Brooks, a 5-foot-8, 152-pounder, hasn't always been well-rounded as a track athlete. Brooks fell in love with sprinting his freshman season, but had little interest in being a jumper.

Beard said he actually had to force Brooks to give the long jump a try. In just his second time competing in the event at a meet, Brooks took first place at the Latrobe Wildcat Invitational that freshman season.

"Since then, he's become very good," Beard said. "We saw he had it in him. That opened his eyes a little bit and let him know there's more out there than just sprinting."

With hard work and the help of Woodland Hills jumping coach Rick Yeager, Brooks has indeed gotten "very good" in the jumping events, particularly the long jump. After finishing seventh at the WPIAL championships as a freshman with a leap of 22 feet, 1 inch, Brooks captured the title last year after jumping 23-8. That set the school outdoor record.

Brooks set the school indoor record in March when he took home the title at the Pennsylvania Track and Field Coaches Association indoor championships at Penn State with a mark of 23-91/4.

This season, Brooks' top long jump has been 23-1/2. He produced that effort at the Mars Invitational on April 25, beating Gateway senior Montae Nicholson, who placed third at the WPIAL and PIAA championships last year. Brooks finished second at the Tri-State Track Coaches Association championships and the Latrobe Wildcat Invitational. Nicholson claimed titles in both of those meets, then soared 24-31/2 to win that event at Baldwin.

Beard said he expects Brooks' marks to improve over the next few weeks, citing that the frequent inclement weather has made it difficult for Brooks to jump much farther than he already has.

"Overall, he is maintaining his distance in the 23s. We're hoping to break through into the 24s," Beard said.

Another factor that has helped Brooks is the presence of teammate Harold Robertson, who has been pushing Brooks in the triple jump. Brooks broke the school record with a leap of 44-11 at the Latrobe Wildcat Invitational, but Robertson responded by jumping one-half inch farther to break Brooks' short-lived record at the same meet.

In the 200, Brooks won the title at the Latrobe Wildcat Invitational, and was second at the TSTCA championships and Mars Invitational. At Mars, last year's WPIAL runner-up, Gateway's Jae'Len Means (23.02), edged out Brooks (23.03) by one-one hundredth of a second. Brooks placed sixth at last year's WPIAL championships.

Brooks holds a season-best time of 51.11 in the 400, which rates as 10th best in the WPIAL to date.

Beard said Brooks plans on qualifying for the WPIAL championships in all four events.

As for the rest of the season, Beard said the sky is the limit for Brooks.

"My expectations for him is to just keep improving and to do his best in what he's doing," Beard said. "We're hoping for a state title for him, especially in the long jump. And to medal in the others.

"We're hoping he brings home some hardware. But as long as he's having fun and enjoying himself, that's what really matters."

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