Column: Harvard-Westlake's Jason Thompson is improving as a track star by leaps and bounds

Harvard-Westlake receiver/triple jumper Jason Thompson
Harvard-Westlake's Jason Thompson has gone 47 feet 2 inches in the triple jump during his first full season of competition. (Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

At the end of football games, receiver Jason Thompson of Studio City Harvard-Westlake breaks away from teammates and makes his way to the end zone alone.

“I’ll go to the goal posts. I’ll say a prayer,” he said.

It’s his moment to honor his father, Bobby, who died at the age of 42 when Thompson was 5. Bobby was Arizona State’s all-time basketball assist leader and used to take his son to the park to shoot baskets.

Thompson’s mother, Shelitta, used to run track at Playa del Rey St. Bernard. His grandfather, Robert, is a member of Arizona’s Hall of Fame for his exploits in football and track in the 1960s. Jason clearly has the genes to do great things in athletic competition, and it’s happening.

On May 1, only two weeks after football season ended, he went 45 feet 7 inches in the triple jump, breaking a 29-year-old school record. On May 8, he won the Arcadia Invitational with a school-record leap of 47-2. Not bad for someone who competed in two triple jumps last year because of COVID-19 restrictions and continues to learn the meaning of hop, step and jump.

“It’s spectacularly amazing,” track coach Jonas Koolsbergen said. “No one does that. No one goes from never having done it to Arcadia champion in two years, especially when one year didn’t exist and the second year he played football half the [track] season. It’s sort of unprecedentedly impressive, especially for an event that is as technical as the triple jump.”

Thompson will get to add to his growing list of track accomplishments when he competes next Saturday at the Southern Section Division 3 championships at Estancia High in Costa Mesa. It’s a full day of track and field, with the Division 1 finals at Mission Viejo Trabuco Hills, Division 2 at Moorpark and Division 4 at Carpinteria.

Thompson’s improved speed and strength from working out for football have boosted him in the triple jump. In football, the 6-foot, 175-pound junior had eight touchdown catches and averaged 20.2 yards a catch in a six-game season. Then he joined the track team, for whom his sister, Jessica, is a sophomore pole vaulter and discus thrower. She was 3 when their father died from an asthma attack after a hike.

“Me and my sister, we grew a lot closer relying on each other,” Thompson said. “My mom has done everything for us. Him passing away sucks. It always sucks, but me and my sister, we developed together.”

Thompson’s athleticism can be seen when he runs the 200 or helps Harvard-Westlake in the 400-meter relay. But what he has done in the triple jump — his rapid improvement — continues to amaze.

“It’s one thing to come out and say, ‘I’m fast,’ but then working on your craft, doing the best you can — it’s tremendous,” Koolsbergen said. “We hope there’s a lot more. If you watch him jump, there’s things you can say, ‘That can be better.’ So the notion he can jump farther is very real.”

There’s no doubt Thompson’s mother will be the loudest fan.

“She’s a big sports person,” he said. “Sports is our thing. Half the time, she’s the one, ‘Hey there’s a game on TV. Let’s watch.’”

Thompson has a big summer ahead trying to finalize a college choice for football. His success in the triple jump has added to his sports options. And he feels at peace knowing what his father would have told him after winning the Arcadia Invitational.

“I think he’s up there looking at me now really proud,” he said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.