Curtis Richardson compares himself to a baby who is just beginning to walk.

Curtis Richardson compares himself to a baby who is just beginning to walk.

"I'm still in the process of taking small steps and I'm competing against guys who have been doing this for six to eight years," said Richardson, a 2015 Licking Heights High School graduate who recently completed his first season of competition in the high jump for the University of Akron men's track and field team.

Still, Richardson tied for 13th in the NCAA Division I championships when he cleared 6 feet, 10 1/4 inches on June 11 in Eugene, Oregon. He was named a second-team All-American.

"It was an incredible first year here, athletically and academically. I'm so blessed," said Richardson, who made the dean's list both semesters. "I definitely improved, but there's still a lot of hard work to do to increase my strength, ability and most of all my technique. It's really, really detailed here when you reach this level. Every aspect is broken down and you concentrate on certain muscle group workouts. It's a challenge and I'm looking forward to conquering everything I can."

At Licking Heights, Richardson tried high jump for the first time late in his sophomore season.

"I only had one competition as a sophomore and then decided I would continue it as a junior and senior," he said. "I picked up a lot of the aspects by watching YouTube videos. I started my junior year at 5-6 and finished at 6-6. I was at 7 feet as a senior."

He capped his prep career by finishing second (6-9) at state behind Hilliard Davidson's Jacob Ross (6-10).

Before competing in the high jump, Richardson fancied himself as a sprinter who had performed well in the long jump.

"I've always loved track and competed when I was real young," he said. "I was real good in the broad jump and actually competed in a national meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania. But I thank God every night that I decided to get into high jumping."

Richardson's best at Akron is a 7-1 1/2 achieved while placing fifth in the East Regional, which was held May 26-28 at the University of North Florida.

Richardson won three titles this past year, all during the indoor season. He cleared 7-1/2 in the Penn State National on Jan. 29 and won the Nittany Lion Invitational with a 6-9 1/2 on Jan. 16. He also won in a dual against Kent State, going 6-10 3/4 on Jan. 22.

He finished in either second or third place in every outdoor meet in the regular season, with the exception being a sixth-place finish (6-11 3/4) in the Drake Relays on April 27-30 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Richardson placed third in the Mid-American Conference championships April 12-14 at Toledo when he posted a 6-9. Teammate Cody Stine, also a freshman, won with a 6-11 as the Zips scored 166 points to win the title ahead of Eastern Michigan (160).

"Curtis did a great, great job for a freshman and just had an amazing season," Akron coach Dennis Mitchell said. "Considering how young he is in the event, he's got plenty of room for growth so we are waiting for some real big jumps from him down the road."

Richardson's jumps coach at Akron is Tomasz Smialek, a 2006 Akron graduate. Smialek holds the school records in the high jump, with a 7-3 3/4 outdoors and a 7-3 1/4 indoors.

"(Smialek) is a great coach who knows all of the intricacies and does a great job relating that to us," Richardson said. "He knows how to get you to that point to help you reach your potential and he sees the potential in all of us."

Richardson and Mitchell also credit Stine for creating a competitive yet healthy rivalry in the high jump.

"Those two guys really motivate and push each other and that's a daily thing, not just in meets," Mitchell said. "They both were second-team All-Americans and they tied for 13th in the nationals. Curtis had a better regional. Cody won the MAC title and Curtis was third. Curtis had the team's best mark this season.

"They are going to push one another to great heights the next three years. They feed off each other, so this is exciting."

Richardson and Stine were two of eight All-Americans for the Zips, who tied Arizona and Northern Arizona for 23rd (10 points) of 81 teams scoring in the national championships, which Florida (62) won.

"My baseline goals for next year are to go 7-3, finish in the top eight nationally and be more consistent on reaching 7-0," Richardson said. "I need that consistency."

bemerine@thisweeknews.com

@Brad_ThisWeek